Part 4 out of 5
(who had their views in his keeping it) fear'd, without some such
extraordinary amusement, his Satiety of Empire might tempt him a
second time to resign."[A]
[Footnote A: The monarch alluded to was evidently Victor Amadeus, King
of Sardinia. The tenor Farinelli (whose real name was Carlo Broschi)
was born in the dukedom of Modena in 1705, and died 1782.]
That Cibber knew something of the wrangles which inevitably follow in
the wake of an operatic troupe may be seen from the next paragraph:
"There is, too, in the very species of an Italian singer such an
innate, fantastical pride and caprice, that the government of them
(here at least) is almost impracticable. This distemper, as we were
not sufficiently warn'd or apprized of, threw our musical affairs into
perplexities we knew not easily how to get out of. There is scarce
a sensible auditor in the Kingdom that has not since that time had
occasion to laugh at the several instances of it. But what is still
more ridiculous, these costly canary birds have sometimes infested the
whole body of our dignified lovers of musick with the same childish
It was merely an illustration of the melancholy fact that the heavenly
maid of music is too often attended by the handmaiden of discord. But
"Ladies have been known," says Colley, "to decline their visits upon
account of their being of a different musical party. Caesar and Pompey
made not a warmer division in the Roman Republick than those heroines,
their country women, the Faustina and Cuzzoni, blew up in our
commonwealth of academical musick by their implacable pretentions to
superiority.[A] And while this greatness of soul is their unalterable
virtue, it will never be practicable to make two capital singers of
the same sex do as they should do in one opera at the same time! No,
tho' England were to double the sums it has already thrown after them.
For even in their own country, where an extraordinary occasion has
called a greater number of their best to sing together, the mischief
they have made has been proportionable; an instance of which, if I am
rightly informed, happen'd at Parma, where upon the celebration of
the marriage of that Duke, a collection was made of the most eminent
voices that expence or interest could purchase, to give as complete an
opera as the whole vocal power of Italy could form.
[Footnote A: Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni Hasse, whose
famous rivalry in 1726 and 1727 is here referred to, were singers
of remarkable powers. Cuzzoni's voice was a soprano, her rival's a
mezzo-soprana, and while the latter excelled in brilliant execution,
the former was supreme in pathetic expression. Dr. Burney("History of
Music," iv. 319) quotes from M. Quanta the statement that so keen was
their supporter's party spirit, that when one party began to applaude
their favourite, the other party hissed!--R.W. LOWE, "Notes to the
"But when it came to the proof of this musical project, behold! what
woful work they made of it! every performer would be a Caesar or
Nothing; their several pretentions to preference were not to be
limited within the laws of harmony; they would all choose their own
songs, but not more to set off themselves than to oppose or deprive
another of an occasion to shine. Yet any one would sing a bad song,
provided nobody else had a good one, till at last they were thrown
together like so many feather'd warriors, for a battle-royal in a
cock-pit, where every one was oblig'd to kill another to save himself!
What pity it was these froward misses and masters of musick had not
been engag'd to entertain the court of some King of Morocco, that
could have known a good opera from a bad one! With how much ease would
such a director have brought them to better order? But alas! as it has
been said of greater things,
"'Suis et ipsa Roma viribus ruit.'
"Imperial Rome fell by the too great strength of its own citizens! So
fell this mighty opera, ruin'd by the too great excellency of its
singers! For, upon the whole, it proved to be as barbarously bad as if
Malice itself had composed it."
It was a pity, no doubt, that the light of opera shone but dimly at
the Haymarket, yet the ill wind which almost extinguished that light
blew a blessing towards the nimble Santlow. For the dear creature
prospered exceeding well as Dorcas Zeal; the heart of the public waxed
warm toward the ex-dancer, and so did the cardiac organ of Barton
Booth. A few years later Booth married the charmer, and she, having
become virtuous and prim, made the remainder of his life a bed of
And now for the brief story of Booth's dignified career. Barton came
of good English stock, and his father, with a true British desire to
rule the destinies of his family, mapped out a clerical life for the
boy. But the latter had no thought of the pulpit, and from the time
that he acted in the "Andria" of Terence, at Westminster School, his
hope was all for the stage. 'Tis very easy to applaud that hope now;
perhaps his relations looked upon it as a temptation offered by the
Evil One. When he reached the mature age of seventeen, and had orders
to begin his university training, what does the youth do but run away
from home, and, taking the theatrical bull by the horns, appear on the
"He first apply'd to Mr. Betterton, then to Mr. Smith, two celebrated
actors," says Chetwood, "but they decently refused him for fear of the
resentment of his family. But this did not prevent his pursuing the
point in view; therefore he resolv'd for Ireland, and safely arrived
in June 1698. His first rudiments Mr. Ashbury[A] taught him, and his
first appearance was in the part of Oroonoko, where he acquitted
himself so well to a crowded audience, that Mr. Ashbury rewarded him
with a present of five guineas, which was the more acceptable as his
last shilling was reduced to brass (as he inform'd me). But an odd
accident fell out upon this occasion. It being very warm weather, in
his last scene of the play, as he waited to go on, he inadvertently
wiped his face, that, when he enter'd, he had the appearance of a
chimney-sweeper (his own words). At his entrance he was surprised at
the variety of noises he heard in the audience (for he knew not what
he had done), that a little confounded him, till he received an
extraordinary clap of applause, which settled his mind. The play was
desir'd for the next night of acting, when an actress fitted a crape
to his face, with an opening proper for the mouth, and shap'd in form
for the nose; but, in the first scene, one part of the crape slip'd
off. 'And zounds!' said he (he was a little apt to swear), 'I look'd
like a magpie. When I came off, they lamp-black'd me for the rest of
the night, that I was flayed before it could be got off again.'"[B]
[Footnote A: Joseph Ashbury, Master of the Revels, in Ireland, actor,
and manager of the theatre in Dublin.]
[Footnote B: Chetwood adds in a footnote: "The composition for
blackening the face are ivory-black and pomatum, which is, with some
pains, clean'd with fresh butter." "Oroonoko" was what we would now
call a "black face" part.]
But Booth was too much in earnest to be daunted by anything so
trifling as the misplacing of a mask. He studied hard, despite a
youthful liking for the jolly joys of Bacchus, and soon made for
himself an enviable position upon the Dublin stage. For the youth had
all the qualities that went toward the formation of a fine actor; he
possessed keen dramatic instinct, poetic sensibility, a beautiful
voice, a handsome person, and, above all, a dogged ambition. In after
years, when his health began to fail and the sweets of success had,
perhaps, become a trifle cloying, the tragedian often went through
a part in a perfunctory manner.[A] But those early days in Ireland
marked the sunrise of his genius--a time no less noble, in its
freshness and promise, than the later glory of the noontide--and there
was in his performance nothing but youthful ardour and devotion.
[Footnote A: He (Booth) would play his best to a single man in the pit
whom he recognised as a playgoer, and a judge of acting; but to an
unappreciating audience he could exhibit an almost contemptuous
disinclination to exert himself. On one occasion of this sort he was
made painfully sensible of his mistake and a note was addressed to him
from the stage-box, the purport of which was to know whether he
was acting for his own diversion or in the service and for the
entertainment of the public? On another occasion, with a thin house
and a cold audience, he was languidly going through one of his usually
grandest impersonations, namely, Pyrrhus. At his very dullest scene he
started into the utmost brilliancy and effectiveness. His eye had just
previously detected in the pit a gentleman, named Stanyan, the
friend of Addison and Steele, and the correspondent of the Earl of
Manchester. Stanyan was an accomplished man and a judicious critic.
Booth played to him, with the utmost care and corresponding success.
"No, no!" he exclaimed, as he passed behind the scenes, "I will not
have it said at Button's that Barton Booth is losing his powers!"--DR.
With that ardour, only whetted by his popularity in Dublin, Barton
travelled to London (1701), and there offered respectful incense at
the shrine of Betterton. 'Twas a shrine at which the public still
worshipped; and when Roscius extended a helping hand to the kneeling
postulant, and brought him before the patrons of Lincoln's Inn Fields,
the success of Booth seemed assured. The latter never forgot the
generosity and kindly interest of his idol, and he spoke with all the
sincerity of gratitude when he once said: "When I acted the Ghost with
Betterton (as Hamlet), instead of my awing him, he terrified me. But
divinity hung round that man." Had he been of an egotistic mould
Barton might have added, that his Ghost was considered hardly less
effective than the Hamlet of the mighty Betterton.
For a decade, or longer, Booth went on this prosperous way, gaining in
favour with the theatre-goers, and increasing his artistic resources.
During this period he married the daughter of a baronet, and she lived
for six years, but not long enough to witness his triumphs in the
"Distressed Mother" and the classic "Cato." As Chetwood well said,
"Pyrrhus in the 'Distressed Mother' placed him in the seat of Tragedy,
and Cato fixed him there." We have already read something of the
"Distressed Mother," and of the production of Addison's tragedy, and
so there is no need to linger over the episodes which caused Booth to
be acclaimed Betterton's logical successor.
We remember, likewise, that the original Cato was admitted to a share
in the management of Drury Lane, as a result of the increased fame
accruing from his impersonation of the grand old Roman. It was an
incident, into which politics entered not a little; there were wires
to pull, and Lord Bolingbroke had his hand in the theatrical pie. "To
reward his merit," chronicles Chetwood, "he (Booth) was joined in
the patent, tho' great interest was made against him by the other
patentees, who, to prevent his soliciting his patrons at Court,
then at Windsor, gave out plays every night, where Mr. Booth had a
principal part. Notwithstanding this step, he had a chariot and six of
a nobleman's waiting for him at the end of every play, that whipt him
the twenty miles in three hours, and brought him back to the business
of the theatre the next night."
"He told me," adds the writer, "not one nobleman in the Kingdom had so
many sets of horses at command as he had at that time, having no less
than eight; the first set carrying him to Hounslow from London, ten
miles; and the next set, ready waiting with another chariot to
carry him to Windsor." Evidently the inspired Barton, with all his
high-flown talent, had an eye for the main chance. In this respect he
resembled one greater than he--David Garrick.
Like Garrick, too, the enterprising Booth had his Peg Woffington, in
the pretty person of Susan Mountford, a daughter of the great Mistress
Verbruggen. He never placed a wedding-ring upon a finger of this young
woman, but he gave her his protection after the death of the baronet's
daughter, and continued to do so until the fragile creature ran off
with a craven fellow named Minshull. This Minshull made away with over
L3000, the sum of Susan's savings,[A] and the erring woman, alike
false to her virtue and the destroyer of that virtue, ended her
darkening days amid the clouds of insanity.
[Footnote A: In the year 1714, they (Booth and Susan) bought several
tickets in the State Lottery, and agreed to share equally whatever
fortune might ensue. Booth gained nothing; the lady won a prize of
5000 pounds, and kept it. His friends counselled him to claim half the
sum, but he laughingly remarked that there had never been any but
a verbal agreement on the matter; and since the result had been
fortunate for his friend, she should enjoy it all.--Dr. DORAN.]
The picture is far prettier with Hester Santlow leaping into the
affections of the actor, and finally marrying him according to the law
of the land. She loved the great man tenderly, ministered to his wants
with a wifely devotion which would hardly suit the "New Woman," and
when he was wont to eat too much (for he had given up the flowing
bowl[A] and must cultivate some other species of gluttony), the
ex-dancer would have the dinner-table removed.
[Footnote A: Booth told Cibber that he "had been for sometime too
frank a lover of the bottle; but having had the happiness to observe
into what contempt and distress Powel had plung'd himself by the same
vice, he was so struck with the terror of his example, that he fix'd
a resolution (which from that time to the end of his days he strictly
observed) of utterly reforming it." And Colley adds; "An uncommon act
of philosophy in a young man!"]
Strange, is it not, that the wife who could be so full of constancy,
and all the other virtues, previously lived a notoriously loose
existence? For it had been the fate of Santlow to stand continually in
the glare of that fierce light which beats upon the stage, and
never, perhaps, did she give the town more to talk about than by her
celebrated _rencontre_ with Captain Montague. The story affords a
glimpse of the free-and-easy manners which sometimes prevailed in
theatres, and will bear the telling, ere we bid farewell to its fair
"About the year 1717," writes Cibber, "a young actress of a desirable
person (Santlow), sitting in an upper box at the Opera, a military
gentleman (Montague) thought this a proper opportunity to secure a
little conversation with her, the particulars of which were probably
no more worth repeating than it seems the Damoiselle then thought them
worth listening to; for, notwithstanding the fine things he said
to her, she rather chose to give the Musick the preference of her
attention. This indifference was so offensive to his high heart,
that he began to change the Tender into the Terrible, and, in short,
proceeded at last to treat her in a style too grossly insulting for
the meanest female ear to endur unresented. Upon which, being beaten
too far out of her discretion, she turn'd hastily upon him with an
angry look and a reply which seem'd to set his merit in so low a
regard, that he thought himself oblig'd in honour to take his time to
"This was the full extent of her crime, which his glory delay'd no
longer to punish than 'till the next time she was to appear upon the
stage. There, in one of her best parts, wherein she drew a favourable
regard and approbation from the audience, he, dispensing with the
respect which some people think due to a polite assembly, began to
interrupt her performance with such loud and various notes of mockery,
as other young men of honour in the same place had sometimes made
themselves undauntedly merry with. Thus, deaf to all murmurs or
entreaties of those about him, he pursued his point, even to throwing
near her such trash as no person can be suppos'd to carry about him
unless to use on so particular an occasion.
"A gentlemen then behind the scenes,[A] being shock'd at his unmanly
behaviour, was warm enough to say, that no man but a fool or a bully
could be capable of insulting an audience or a woman in so monstrous a
manner. The former valiant gentleman, to whose ear the words were soon
brought by his spies, whom he had plac'd behind the scenes to observe
how the action was taken there, came immediately from the pit in a
heat, and demanded to know of the author of those words if he was the
person that spoke them? to which he calmly reply'd, that though he had
never seen him before, yet since he seem'd so earnest to be satisfy'd,
he would do him the favour to own, that indeed the words were his, and
that they would be the last words he should chuse to deny whoever they
might fall upon.
[Footnote A: Secretary Craggs.]
"To conclude, their dispute was ended the next morning in Hyde Park,
where the determin'd combatant who first ask'd for satisfaction was
obliged afterwards to ask his life too; whether he mended it or not, I
have not yet heard; but his antagonist in a few years afterwards died
in one of the principal posts of the Government."
There were no more such scenes after Santlow became Mrs. Barton Booth.
Everything was respectability, and the voice of the turtle-dove
appears to have been heard in the home of the happy couple. Yea, the
husband waxed ecstatic after several years of married bliss, once more
tuned his lyre, and burst forth into verses, wherein he set forth,
among other things:
"Happy the hour when first our souls were joined!
The social virtues and the cheerful mind
Have ever crowned our days, beguiled our pain;
Strangers to discord and her clamorous train," &c.
The lines suggest placidity of existence, and placid, indeed, was the
married life of Booth, barring his moments of ill-health. When his
career is compared to that of certain other players, it stands out in
rather pleasant relief, by virtue of its even tenor and prosperity. It
was free from the vicissitudes which have waylaid the paths of equally
great artists, and the current of his genius ran on without a ripple,
save that of sickness. There was one direction, however, wherein Booth
found variety and excitement, and that was in the wondrous diversity
of parts which he assumed. In tragedy, his work took a wide range,
going all the way from Laertes to Othello, while he sallied forth now
and again into the field of comedy, and emerged therefrom with honour.
He did not, to be sure, distinguish himself so brilliantly as a
comedian as he did in tragic garb, yet he wooed Thalia in a genteel
way which seldom failed to please. Nay, it is chronicled that he
impersonated capon-lined Falstaff in a fashion that amused even
phlegmatic Queen Anne. But the actor of long ago thought nothing of
such catholicity in art. He often worked like a horse, that he might
later play like a god.[A]
[Footnote A: To show the versatility of Booth it need only be
mentioned that his parts (among many not herein named) included the
Ghost, Laertes, Horatio and the Prince in "Hamlet," Dick in "The
Confederacy," Captain Worthy in the "Fair Quaker of Deal," Pyrrhus,
Cato, Young Bevil in the "Conscious Lovers," Tamerlane, Oronooko,
Jaffier, Othello, King Lear, Hotspur, Wildair, Sir Charles Easy,
Falstaff, Cassio, Macbeth, Banquo, Lennox, Henry VIII. and Cinna. Few
living players can match such a repertoire.]
Perhaps the most annoying disturbance which ever came into Booth's
theatrical life, and not a great disturbance at that, was the jealousy
which existed between Wilks and himself. Wilks was impetuous, bad
tempered and crotchety, and it is possible that the envy was,
originally, rather of his own making. But be that as it may, Booth
suffered many a pang from the successes of the more dashing Wilks, and
the latter never lost an opportunity of thwarting his associate. We
remember how the commonplace Mills was pushed forward, with the idea
of hiding the genius of Barton, and Cibber refers more than once to
this short-sighted policy of Wilks. "And yet, again," he writes,
"Booth himself, when he came to be a manager, would sometimes suffer
his judgment to be blinded by his inclination to actors whom the town
seem'd to have but an indifferent opinion of." And thereupon Colley
asks "another of his old questions"--viz., "Have we never seen the
same passions govern a Court! How many white staffs and great places
do we find, in our histories, have been laid at the feet of a monarch,
because they chose not to give way to a rival in power, or hold a
second place in his favour? How many Whigs and Tories have changed
their parties, when their good or bad pretentions have met with a
check to their higher preferment?"
The fact is that there was never any artistic sympathy between the two
distinguished actors. Booth could play comedy, and play it quite well,
but his soul was all for tragedy. On the other hand, while Wilks knew
how to tread the sombre paths of high drama (he even made a creditable
Hamlet), the comedian looked with more regard upon his own peculiar
vein of work, the impersonation of the graceful, the genteel, and the
elegantly picturesque. In one way the latter proved more generous
than his rival. "It might be imagin'd," runs on Cibber, "from the
difference of their natural tempers, that Wilks should have been more
blind to the excellencies of Booth than Booth was to those of Wilks;
but it was not so. Wilks would sometimes commend Booth to me; but when
Wilks excell'd the other was silent."[A]
[Footnote A: During Booth's inability to act ...Wilks was called upon
to play two of his parts: Jaffier and Lord Hastings in "Jane Shore."
Booth was, at times, in all other respects except his power to go
on the stage, in good health, and went among the players for his
amusement. His curiosity drew him to the playhouse on the nights when
Wilks acted these characters, in which himself had appeared with
uncommon lustre. All the world admired Wilks except his brother
manager: amidst the repeated bursts of applause which he extorted,
Booth alone continued silent.--DAVIES.]
But all these petty heartburnings and jealousies were buried in the
grave of Wilks. That incomparable player, whose sprightliness seemed
to defy the grim tyrant, and who could act the lithesome youth upon
the stage even though he had to hobble to his hackney-coach when the
piece was ended, made his last exit in the autumn of 1732. Booth
followed on the same long journey in the May of 1733, after an illness
during which the great patient was dosed with crude mercury, bled,
plastered, blistered, and otherwise helped onward to his death.
Verily, it is a wonder that the physicians of old did not extinguish
the whole human race.
The still attractive Santlow (or rather Mrs. Booth) survived the
tragedian, and her sorrow may have been assuaged by the remembrance
that she was left the sole heir of her husband. "I have considered my
circumstances," wrote Booth in his will, "and finding upon a strict
examination that all I am now possessed of does not amount to
two-thirds of the fortune my wife brought me on the day of our
marriage, together with the yearly additions and advantages since
arising from her laborious employment on the stage during twelve years
past, I thought myself bound by honesty, honour, and gratitude due to
her constant affection, not to give away any part of the remainder of
her fortune at my death"; and with that eloquent stroke of the pen
the testator cut off with nothing a sister and a brother whom he had
sufficiently helped during his lifetime.
Surely so noble an actor deserves an epitaph. Perhaps none could be
more worthy than this estimate of the man, made by Aaron Hill: "He had
learning to understand perfectly whatever it was his part to speak,
and judgment to know how far it agreed or disagreed with his
character. Hence arose a peculiar grace which was visible to every
spectator, tho' few were at the pains of examining into the cause of
their pleasure. He could soften, or slide over, with a kind of elegant
negligence, the improprieties in a part he acted; while, on the
contrary, he would dwell with energy upon the beauties, as if he
exerted a latent spirit which had been kept back for such an occasion,
that he might alarm, waken, and transport, to those places only, where
the dignity of his own good sense could be supported with that of his
If some players of to-day will take a lesson by this description, the
judicious Booth need not have lived in vain. His soul, like that of
the late lamented John Brown, will go marching on.
THE FADING OF A STAR
The life of Mistress Oldfield, like that of Barton Booth, was cast in
pleasant places. Yet the lady had her little agitations, and found
them, no doubt, rather an incentive to existence than otherwise. Take,
for instance, the excitement surrounding the production, during the
Drury Lane season of 1711-12, of Mrs. Centlivre's play, "The Perplexed
Lovers." To the lovely Nance was entrusted the duty of speaking the
epilogue thereto, wherein Prince Eugene (at that time on a visit to
England) and the Duke of Marlborough were lauded in the true spirit of
ancient flunkeyism. But the animosity which politics doth breed ran
high, and the first night of the performance went by without the
introduction of the eulogy. Some patriots objected to the sentiments
which it contained, and the managers were cautious. As for Oldfield,
she might have been cautious, too, and with reason, for she had
received letters threatening her with dire pains and penalties if she
spoke the offending words, but Anne stood ready to deliver them at
whatsoever time the patentees might name. So when the second night of
"The Perplexed Lovers" arrived, and a special licence from the Lord
Chamberlain had been secured, the actress came valiantly forward and
spoke the epilogue with success. Perhaps Eugene of Savoy thanked Mrs.
Oldfield--let us hope that he did--and it is at least certain that
after the withdrawal of the play his Highness sent Mrs. Centlivre an
elaborate gold snuff-box.[A]
[Footnote A: Speaking of the beau's outfit in the reign of Queen Anne,
Ashton says: "His snuff-box, too, was an object of his solicitude,
though, as the habit of taking snuff had but just come into vogue,
there were no collections of them, and no beau had ever dreamed of
criticizing a box, as did Lord Petersham, as, 'a nice Summer box.' ...
Those of the middle classes were chiefly of silver, or tortoise-shell,
or mother-of-pearl; sometimes of 'aggat' or with a 'Moco Stone' in
the lid. A beau would sometimes either have a looking-glass, or the
portrait of a lady inside the lid."]
And who was the gratified Centlivre? A masculine looking female with
a talent for play-writing, a tendency to appear in men's parts, and
last, but far from least, a nice little wen adorning her left eyelid.
She possessed other characteristics too, but those herein mentioned
are the only ones which stand out clearly after the lapse of nearly
two centuries. This doughty woman had been married twice before she
went to Windsor, where she once more entered into the matrimonial
noose, or rather, again inveigled an unfortunate into that treacherous
device. The visit to the seat of Royalty was signalised by her acting
of Alexander the Great, but from the atmosphere of Kings and Queens
she passed without a murmur to the humbler air of a kitchen. In other
words, she married a Mr. Centlivre, chief cook to her well-fed Majesty
Queen Anne; and the mean-livered Pope would refer to her, later on, as
"the cook's wife in Buckingham Court." She might, indeed, be a cook's
wife, but she knew how to write with vivacity, and produced many an
entertaining play. Among them were "A Bold Stroke for a Wife" and "The
Wonder," that comedy which Garrick would so relish in after years.
The nature of the aforesaid "Wonder" was explained in the satirical
reflection of the secondary title, "A Woman Keeps a Secret!" And Mrs.
Centlivre had this to say in her epilogue, upon the mooted question of
"Keep a secret, says a beau,
And sneers at some ill-natured wit below;
But faith, if we should tell but half we know,
There's many a spruce young fellow in this place,
Wou'd never presume to show his face;
Women are not so weak, what e'er men prate;
How many tip-top beaux have had the fate,
T'enjoy from mama's secrets their estate!
Who, if her early folly had made known,
Had rid behind the coach that's now their own."
Mrs. Oldfield received fresh cause for nervousness, had she been of
a timid temperament, when, some years later, during the season of
1717-18, Cibber's political play of "The Non-Juror" was brought out.
The comedy was a blow aimed at the Jacobites and the Pretender, who
had met with such disastrous treatment in the rebellion of 1715, and
was a skilfully-wrought laudation of the Hanoverian dynasty.[A]
[Footnote A: The piece was published and dedicated to George I., who
acknowledged his sense of the honour by paying to Cibber the sum of
two hundred guineas. That the good old prejudice against the stage was
still in full force, despite the march of liberal ideas, is clearly
shown in the author's address to the King: "Your comedians, Sir, are
an unhappy society, whom some severe heads think wholly useless,
and others, dangerous to the young and innocent. This comedy is,
therefore, an attempt to remove that prejudice, and to show what
honest and laudable uses may be made of the theatre, when its
performances keep close to the true purposes of its institution."
Cibber also referred to himself as "the lowest of your subjects from
the theatre," and thus mirrored the servility of the golden Georgian
"About this time," writes Cibber, telling of the play's presentation,
"Jacobitism had lately exerted itself by the most unprovoked rebellion
that our histories have handed down to us since the Norman Conquest;
I therefore thought that to set the authors and principles of that
desperate folly in a fair light, by allowing the mistaken consciences
of some their best excuse, and by making the artful Pretenders to
Conscience as ridiculous as they were ungratefully wicked, was a
subject fit for the honest satire of comedy, and what might, if it
succeeded, do honour to the stage by showing the valuable use of
it. And considering what numbers at that time might come to it as
prejudiced spectators, it may be allow'd that the undertaking was not
less hazardous than laudable."
And hazardous the project certainly seemed; for, while the uprising in
the interests of the Pretender had been ostensibly crushed, the spirit
of "divine right" was as strong as ever; there were many worthy
gentlemen who drank secret bumpers to the King--"over the water"--and
the Hanoverian throne had as yet a precarious lodgment on English
soil. It was expected, therefore, that these malcontents would have
anything but an appetite for the theatrical feast set before them in
the shape of the "Non-Juror," and would prove none the less disgusted
because the play happened to be an adaptation of Moliere's "Tartuffe."
As the latter comedy depicts a self-indulgent, crawling hypocrite of
the worst type, and is an eloquent sermon against sham, it may be
imagined that the Jacobites were not over enthusiastic when they
learned that the moral of "Tartuffe" was to be applied to them.[A]
[Footnote A: Tartuffe, according to French tradition, is a caricature
of the famous Pere la Chaise (Confessor to Louis Quatorze), who had
a weakness for the pleasures of the table, including truffles
(tartuffes). After Cibber's day, Moliere's play was again adapted into
English, under the title of "The Hypocrite."]
"Upon the hypocrisy of the French character," explains Cibber (who
probably looked upon France, Papacy, and the Pretender as a threefold
combination of sin), "I engrafted a stronger wickedness, that of an
English Popish priest lurking under the doctrine of our own Church
to raise his fortune upon the ruin of a worthy gentleman, whom his
dissembled sanctity had seduc'd into the treasonable cause of a Roman
Catholick outlaw. How this design, in the play, was executed, I refer
to the readers of it; it cannot be mended by any critical remarks I
can make in its favour. Let it speak for itself."
The "Non-juror" did speak for itself, too, and that in decided
terms.[A] The production entailed the scorn of the disaffected, and
made for Cibber some lasting enemies, but the friends of government
were strong, Cibber was lauded for his loyalty, and the comedy
achieved a triumph. The vivacity of Oldfield's acting, as Maria,
delighted all beholders, and it was further agreed that the
performance was well given throughout. In the cast were Booth, Mills,
Wilks, Cibber, Mrs. Porter, Mrs. Oldfield, and Walker. The Walker here
mentioned was at that time a very young man, not over seventeen or
eighteen years of age, and made his first hit in the "Non-juror." When
the "Beggars' Opera" was subsequently brought out, the mighty Quin
refused to play the highwayman, Macheath, and Walker willingly took
the part and made therein the reputation of his life. But success
turned his unsteady head. "He follow'd Bacchus too ardently, insomuch
that his credit was often drown'd upon the stage, and, by degrees,
almost render'd him useless." Ungrammatical, but to the point, Mr.
[Footnote A: The success surpassed even expectation. It raised against
Cibber a phalanx of implacable foes--foes who howled at everything
of which he was afterwards the author; but it gained for him his
advancement to the poet-laureateship, and an estimation which caused
some people to place him, for usefulness to the cause of true
religion, on an equality with the author of "The Whole Duty of
This Walker was a genius in a small fashion. He possessed an
expressive face and manly figure, with a native buoyancy and humour
which stood him in good stead in the character of Macheath, while he
had the further gift of dominating a tragic scene with an assumption
of tyrannic fire which must have been greatly admired by the
theatre-goers of his time. He could not sing, to be sure, when he
graced the "Beggars' Opera," but the audiences took the will for the
deed, applauded his gaiety of action, and quickly pardoned his lyric
short-comings. We are equally lenient nowadays to many a comic-opera
comedian, so called. Chetwood tells us that Walker was the supposed
author of two pieces, "The Quakers' Opera," and a tragedy styled "The
Fate of Villainy." The latter, it appears, "he brought to Ireland
in the year 1744, and prevailed on the proprietors (of the Dublin
theatre) to act it, under the title of 'Love and Loyalty.' The second
night was given out for his benefit; but not being able to pay in half
the charge of the common expences, the doors were order'd to be kept
"But, I remember," laconically adds Chetwood, "few people came to ask
the reason. However, I fear this disappointment hasten'd his death;
for he survived it but three days; dying in the 44th year of his age,
a martyr to what often stole from him a good understanding."
"He who delights in drinking out of season,
Takes wond'rous pains to drown his manly reason."
Poor Walker! He is not the only actor who has perished from a mixture
of wine and injured vanity.
To return to the success of the "Non-juror," Cibber writes: "All the
reason I had to think it no bad performance was, that it was acted
eighteen days running, and that the party that were hurt by it (as I
have been told) have not been the smallest number of my back friends
ever since. But happy was it for this play that the very subject
was its protection; a few smiles of silent contempt were the utmost
disgrace that on the first day of its appearance it was thought safe
to throw upon it; as the satire was chiefly employ'd on the enemies of
the Government, they were not so hardy as to own themselves such by
any higher disapprobation or resentment."[A]
[Footnote A: The production of the "Non-juror" added Pope to the list
of Cibber's enemies, the great poet's father having been a Non-juror.]
Yet Cibber's enemies never failed to make things unpleasant for him if
they could do so without running too great a risk. There was Nathaniel
Mist, for instance, who published a Jacobite paper called _Mist's
Weekly Journal_. This vindictive gentleman, whose political heresies
once brought him to the pillory and a prison, began a systematic
attack upon the actor-manager, and kept up the warfare for fifteen
years. Once, when Colley was ill of a fever, Mist made up his
journalistic mind that his enemy must have the good taste to depart
the pleasures of this life. So he inserted the following paragraph in
"Yesterday died Mr. Colley Cibber, late Comedian of the Theatre Royal,
notorious for writing the 'Non-juror.'"
The very day that this obituary appeared Cibber crawled out of the
house, sick-faced but convalescent, and read the notice with keen
interest. Whether he was amused thereat, or dubbed the joke a poor
one, is a matter which he does not record, but he tells us that he
"saw no use in being thought to be thoroughly dead before his time,"
and "therefore had a mind to see whether the town cared to have him
"So the play of the 'Orphan' being to be acted that day, I quietly
stole myself into the part of the Chaplain, which I had not been
seen in for many years before. The surprise of the audience at my
unexpected appearance on the very day I had been dead in the news, and
the paleness of my looks, seem'd to make it a doubt whether I was not
the ghost of my real self departed. But when I spoke, their wonder
eas'd itself by an applause; which convinc'd me they were then
satisfied that my friend Mist had told a fib of me. Now, if simply to
have shown myself in broad life, and about my business, after he had
notoriously reported me dead, can be called a reply, it was the only
one which his paper while alive ever drew from me."
The Jacobites could not interfere with the triumph of the "Non-juror,"
but they were shrewd enough to bide their time. That time came, as
they thought, in 1728, when there was unfolded at Drury Lane a comedy
which became famous under the title of "The Provoked Husband." The
rough draft of the play was the work of Vanbrugh, now dead, but the
dialogue and situations had been elaborated by Cibber. Here was a
chance, therefore, to damn the latter writer, and accordingly the
malcontents repaired to the theatre, hissed the performance roundly,
and then went home with the comfortable reflection that they had
gotten their revenge. Their revenge, however, was shortlived, for the
general public liked the comedy, and soon flocked to its rescue.
"On the first day of 'The Provok'd Husband,'" says the Poet Laureate,
"ten years after the 'Non-juror' had appear'd, a powerful party, not
having the fear of publick offence or private injury before their
eyes, appeared most impetuously concerned for the demolition of it; in
which they so far succeeded that for some time I gave it up for lost;
and to follow their blows, in the publick papers of the next day it
was attack'd and triumph'd over as a dead and damn'd piece: a swinging
criticism was made upon it in general invective terms, for they
disdain'd to trouble the world with particulars; their sentence, it
seems, was proof enough of its deserving the fate it had met with.
But this damn'd play was, notwithstanding, acted twenty-eight nights
together, and left off at a receipt of upwards of a hundred and forty
pounds; which happened to be more than in fifty years before could be
then said of any one play whatsoever."
The play was saved, and no one contributed more importantly to that
result than did Mistress Oldfield. Her acting as the heroine, Lady
Townley, was pronounced superb, and though she had now drifted into
middle-age--was she not over forty?--Nance still seemed, on the stage
at least, the incarnation of youth and grace. Is there not a certain
English actress, now living (one, by-the-way, who plays Nance Oldfield
and suggests her as well) who defies the inroads of time with equal
[Footnote A: In the wearing of her person she (Oldfield) was
particularly fortunate; her figure was always improving to her
thirty-sixth year, but her excellence in acting was never at a stand.
And Lady Townley, one of her last new parts, was a proof that she was
still able to do more, if more could have been done for her.--GENEST.]
Lady Townley is nothing more or less than a glorified, matured edition
of Lady Betty Modish, and, therefore, a very charming woman. Charming,
at least, on the boards of a theatre, if not upon the floor of a real
drawing-room. For she has a love of pleasure which can hardly be
called domestic, and her unfortunate husband, who would see more of
her, is tempted to ask, in the very first scene of the play: "Why did
I marry?" "While she admits no lover," Lord Townley soliloquises [for
my lady is at least virtuous] "she thinks it a greater merit still, in
her chastity, not to care for her husband; and while she herself is
solacing in one continual round of cards and good company, he, poor
wretch, is left at large to take care of his own contentment. 'Tis
time, indeed, some care were taken, and speedily there shall be. Yet
let me not be rash. Perhaps this disappointment of my heart may
make me too impatient; and some tempers, when reproach'd, grow more
And when Lady Townley, all graces and ribbons and laces, enters on the
scene my lord meekly asks:
* * * * *
"Going out so soon after dinner, madam?"
"Lady T. Lord, my Lord, what can I possibly do at home?
"Lord T. What does my sister, Lady Grace, do at home?
"Lady T. Why, that is to me amazing! Have you ever any pleasure at
"Lord T. It might be in your power, madam, I confess, to make it a
little more comfortable to me.
"Lady T. Comfortable! and so, my good lord, you would really have a
woman of my rank and spirit, stay at home to comfort her husband!
Lord! what notions of life some men have!
"Lord T. Don't you think, madam, some ladies notions are full as
"Lady T. Yes, my lord, when tame doves live cooped within the pen of
your precepts, I do think 'em prodigious indeed!
"Lord T. And when they fly wild about this town, madam, pray what must
the world think of 'em then?
"Lady T. Oh! this world is not so ill bred as to quarrel with any
woman for liking it.
"Lord T. Nor am I, madam, a husband so well bred as to bear my wife's
being so fond of it; in short, the life you lead, madam--
"Lady T. Is, to me, the pleasantest life in the world.
"Lord T. I should not dispute your taste, madam, if a woman had a
right to please nobody but herself.
"Lady T. Why, whom would you have her please?
"Lord T. Sometimes her husband.
"Lady T. And don't you think a husband under the same obligation?
"Lord T. Certainly.
"Lady T. Why then we are agreed, my lord. For if I never go abroad
till I am weary of being at home--which you know is the case--is it
not equally reasonable, not to come home till one's a weary of being
"Lord T. If this be your rule of life, madam, 'tis time to ask you one
"Lady T. Don't let it be long acoming then, for I am in haste.
"Lord T. Madam, when I am serious, I expect a serious answer.
"Lady T. Before I know the question? [Here we can imagine Wilks, who
played Lord Townley, waxing exceeding wroth at my lady.]
"Lord T. Pshah--have I power, madam, to make you serious by intreaty?
"Lady T. You have.
"Lord T. And you promise to answer me sincerely.
"Lady T. Sincerely.
"Lord T. Now then recollect your thoughts, and tell me seriously why
you married me?
"Lady T. You insist upon truth, you say?
"Lord T. I think I have a right to it.
"Lady T. Why then, my lord, to give you at once a proof of my
obedience and sincerity--I think--I married--to take off that
restraint that lay upon my pleasures, while I was a single woman.
"Lord T. How, madam, is any woman under less restraint after marriage
than before it?
"Lady T. O my lord! my lord! they are quite different creatures! Wives
have infinite liberties in life that would be terrible in an unmarried
woman to take.
"Lord T. Name one.
"Lady T. Fifty, if you please. To begin then, in the morning--a
married women may have men at her toilet, invite them to dinner,
appoint them a party in a stage box at the play; engross the
conversation there, call 'em by their Christian names; talk louder
than the players;--from thence jaunt into the city--take a frolicksome
supper at an India house--perhaps, in her _gaiete de coeur_, toast a
pretty fellow--then clatter again to this end of the town, break with
the morning into an assembly, crowd to the hazard table, throw a
familiar levant upon some sharp lurching man of quality, and if he
demands his money, turn it off with a loud laugh, and cry--you'll owe
it to him, to vex him! ha! ha!
"Lord T. [_Aside_]. Prodigious!"
It is related that so magnificently did Oldfield describe the
pleasures of a woman of fashion that the audience echoed, with a
different meaning, Lord Townley's comment, and showered her with
plaudits. "Prodigious," indeed, must have been her acting.
Nance was even more captivating, as the comedy progressed, and nowhere
did she shine more brilliantly, it may be supposed, than in the
"Lady Townley. Well! look you, my lord; I can bear it no longer!
Nothing still but about my faults, my faults! An agreeable subject
"Lord T. Why, madam, if you won't hear of them, how can I ever hope to
see you mend them?
"Lady T. Why, I don't intend to mend them--I can't mend them--you know
I have try'd to do it an hundred times, and--it hurts me so--I can't
"Lord T. And I, madam, can't bear this daily licentious abuse of your
time and character.
"Lady T. Abuse! astonishing! when the universe knows, I am never
better company than when I am doing what I have a mind to! But to
see this world! that men can never get over that silly spirit of
contradiction--why, but last Thursday, now--there you wisely amended
one of my faults, as you call them--you insisted upon my not going to
the masquerade--and pray, what was the consequence? Was not I as cross
as the Devil, all the night after? Was not I forc'd to get company at
home? And was it not almost three o'clock in the morning before I
was able to come to myself again? And then the fault is not mended
neither--for next time I shall only have twice the inclination to go:
so that all this mending and mending, you see, is but darning an old
ruffle, to make it worse than it was before.
"Lord T. Well, the manner of women's living, of late, is
insupportable, and one way or other--
"Lady T. It's to be mended, I suppose! Why, so it may, but then, my
dear lord, you must give one time--and when things are at worst, you
know, they may mend themselves! Ha! ha!
"Lord T. Madam, I am not in a humour, now, to trifle.
"Lady T. Why, then, my lord, one word of fair argument--to talk with
you, your own way now--you complain of my late hours, and I of your
early ones--so far we are even, you'll allow--but pray which gives us
the best figure, in the eye of the polite world, my active, spirited
three in the morning, or your dull, drowsy, eleven at night? Now,
I think, one has the air of a woman of quality, and t'other of a
plodding mechanic, that goes to bed betimes, that he may rise early,
to open his shop--faugh!
"LORD T. Fy, fy, madam! is this your way of reasoning? 'Tis time to
wake you then. 'Tis not your ill hours alone that disturb me, but as
often the ill company that occasion those ill hours.
"LADY T. Sure I don't understand you now, my lord; what ill company do
"LORD T. Why, at best, women that lose their money, and men that win
it! or, perhaps, men that are voluntary bubbles at one game, in hopes
a lady will give them fair play at another.[A] Then that unavoidable
mixture with known rakes, conceal'd thieves, and sharpers in
embroidery--or what, to me, is still more shocking, that herd of
familiar chattering, crop-ear'd coxcombs, who are so often like
monkeys, there would be no knowing them asunder, but that their tails
hang from their head, and the monkey's grows where it should do.
[Footnote A: Women gambled as passionately as did the men in the early
part of the eighteenth century. Ashton quotes the following from the
"Gaming Lady": "She's a profuse lady, tho' of a miserly temper, whose
covetous disposition is the very cause of her extravagancy; for the
desire of success wheedles her ladyship to play, and the incident
charges and disappointments that attend it make her as expensive to
her husband as his coach and six horses. When an unfortunate night has
happen'd to empty her cabinet, she has many shifts to replenish her
pockets. Her jewels are carry'd privately into Lombard street, and
fortune is to be tempted the next night with another sum, borrowed
of my lady's goldsmith at the extortion of a pawnbroker; and if that
fails, then she sells off her wardrobe, to the great grief of her
maids; stretches her credit amongst those she deals with, or makes her
waiting woman dive into the bottom of her trunk, and lug out her green
net purse full of old Jacobuses, in hopes to recover her losses by a
turn of fortune, that she may conceal her bad luck from the knowledge
of her husband."]
"Lady T. And a husband must give eminent proof of his sense that
thinks their powder puffs dangerous!
"Lord T. Their being fools, madam, is not always the husband's
security; or, if it were, fortune sometimes gives them advantages
might make a thinking woman tremble.
"Lady T. What do you mean?
"Lord T. That women sometimes lose more than they are able to pay;
and, if a creditor be a little pressing, the lady may be reduced to
try if, instead of gold, the gentleman will accept of a trinket.
"Lady T. My lord, you grow scurrilous; you'll make me hate you. I'll
have you to know I keep company with the politest people in town, and
the assemblies I frequent are full of such.
"Lord T. So are the churches--now and then.
"Lady T. My friends frequent them, too, as well as the assemblies.
"Lord T. Yes; and would do it oftener if a groom of the chambers there
were allowed to furnish cards to the company.
"Lady T. I see what you drive at all this while. You would lay an
imputation on my fame to cover your own avarice! I might take any
pleasures, I find, that were not expensive.
"Lord T. Have a care, madam; don't let me think you only value your
chastity to make me reproachable for not indulging you in everything
else that's vicious. I, madam, have a reputation, too, to guard that's
dear to me as yours. The follies of an ungoverned wife may make the
wisest man uneasy; but 'tis his own fault if ever they make him
"Lady T. My lord, you make a woman mad!
"Lord T. You'd make a man a fool.
"Lady T. If heaven has made you otherwise, that won't be in my power.
"Lord T. Whatever may be in your inclination, madam, I'll prevent you
making me a beggar, at least.
"Lady T. A beggar! Croesus, I'm out of patience. I won't come home
till four to-morrow morning.
"Lord T. That may be, madam; but I'll order the doors to be locked at
"Lady T. Then I won't come home till to-morrow night.
"Lord T. Then, madam, you shall never come home again." [_Exit_ Lord
* * * * *
In the end, of course, Lady Townley is converted to the pleasures of
domesticity, and ends the comedy by saying:
"So visible the bliss, so plain the way,
How was it possible my sense could stray?
But now, a convert to this truth I come,
That married happiness is never found from home."
Perhaps when Oldfield delivered these virtuous lines, she thought to
herself that happiness, even of the unmarried kind, was never very far
away from home. But she forgot sentiment when she came back to give
the breezy epilogue:
"Methinks I hear some powder'd critics say
Damn it, this wife reform'd has spoil'd the play!
The coxcombs should have drawn her more in fashion,
Have gratify'd her softer inclination,
Have tipt her a gallant, and clinch'd the provocation.
But there our bard stops short: for 'twere uncivil
T'have made a modern belle all o'er a devil!
He hop'd in honor of the sex, the age
Would bear one mended woman--on the stage."
Continuing, after diverse moral reflections, Nance made this appeal to
"You, you then, ladies, whose unquestion'd lives
Give you the foremost fame of happy wives,
Protect, for its attempt, this helpless play;
Nor leave it to the vulgar taste a prey;
Appear the frequent champion of its cause,
Direct the crowd, and give yourselves applause."
"Zounds, madam," cries a beau who is ogling a woman of quality in a
stage box, "they say Anne Oldfield will never see forty-two again, but
I'll warrant you, madam, she looks not a day older than yourself." And
the woman of quality, who is over forty, bows at the compliment, as
well she may. Bellchambers records that Lady Townley was universally
regarded as Oldfield's _ne plus ultra_ in acting. "She slided so
gracefully into the foibles, and displayed so humorously the excesses,
of a fine woman too sensible of her charms, too confident in her
strength, and led away by her pleasures, that no succeeding Lady
Townley arrived at her many distinguished excellencies in the
character."[A] And the writer goes on to say that "by being a welcome
and constant visitor to families of distinction, Mrs. Oldfield
acquired a graceful carriage in representing women of high rank, and
expressed their sentiments in a manner so easy, natural, and flowing,
that they appeared to be of her own genuine utterance." Pray, sir,
what is there so remarkable about that? Had not Anne as gentle blood
as that which coursed through the veins of many a lady of rank?
[Footnote A: The Lady Townleys of later years included Mrs. Spranger
Barry and the imposing Mistress Yates.]
But the triumphs of the first Lady Townley were fast drawing to a
close; the curtain would soon be rung down for ever upon that radiant
face, with its angelic smile and dancing eyes, and the stage, whether
Drury Lane or mother earth would see her no more. Ill health began to
follow in her once careless path, and there were times when the duties
of acting seemed almost unbearable. Yet she was a brave woman, and
kept a merry front to the audience, although she was obliged, on
occasions, to turn away from the house, that it might not see the
tears of pain flowing down her cheek. Here was a combination of comedy
and tragedy, with a vengeance!
Still Nance went on, delighting the town as of yore, and putting into
her last original role, that of Sophonisba, a fire which breathed not
of sickness nor failing powers. At last there came a day when she
played her final part, and left Drury Lane only to be driven tenderly
home to her death-bed. Think of the pathos of this last performance,
this giving up of all that was most alluring in life, and let none of
us poor moderns presume to analyse the heart-broken woman's feelings
as she said good-bye to the dear old theatre. Anne worshipped art, and
the public, in turn, worshipped her; she had acted her many parts,
laughed, cried, sinned, and waxed exceeding happy--and now she was to
be cast out into the darkness. Must she not have shivered when she
entered her house in Lower Grosvenor Street for the last time? Poor
lovable creature! There could be for her now neither lights, nor
laughter, nor applause; all would be gloom and weariness to the end.
During the weeks which followed, the invalid received the untiring
attentions of Mistress Saunders, who once upon a time played bouncing
chambermaids, but who had, for ten years past, acted as a feminine
_valet de chambre_ and general factotum for Mrs. Oldfield. And if ever
she played well, 'twas in thus ministering to the dying wants of one
who in health had been ever helpful and generous. Pope, who hated the
great comedienne in his petty, spiteful way, has immortalised the
intimacy of mistress and handmaiden in these lines:
"'Odious! in woolen? 'twould a saint provoke!'
Were the last words that poor Narcissa spoke.
'No, let a charming Chintz and Brussels lace
Wrap my cold limbs and shade my lifeless face;
One would not sure be frightful when one's dead,
And, Betty, give this cheek a little red.'"[A]
[Footnote A: Pope's Moral Essays.]
These ante-mortem directions had no further reality than the
imagination of the poet; but it is easy to believe that the woman who
had set the fashions for the town these many years would have enough
of the feminine instinct left, though Death waited without, to plan a
becoming funeral garb. Woollen, forsooth! It was a beastly law which
required that all the dead should be buried in that material, and
Nance shuddered when she thought of it.[A]
[Footnote A: The dead were then buried in woolen, which was rendered
compulsory by the Acts 30 Car. II. c. 3 and 36 ejusdem c. i. The first
act was entitled "an Act for the lessening the importation of linnen
from beyond the seas, and the encouragement of the woolen and paper
manufactures of the kingdome." It prescribed that the curate of every
parish, shall keep a register to be provided at the charge of the
parish, wherein to enter all burials and affidavits of persons being
buried in woolen; the affidavit to be taken by any justice of the
peace, mayor, or such like chief officer in the parish where the
body was interred.... It imposed a fine of five pounds for every
infringement, one half to go to the informer, and the other half to
the poor of the parish. This Act was only repealed by 54 Geo. III.
c. 108, or in the year 1815. The material used was flannel, and
such interments are frequently mentioned in the literature of the
Soon there were no more thoughts of dress, no more plaintive shudders
at the iniquity of the woollen act. The eyes whose kindly light had
illumined the dull soul of many a playgoer, closed for ever on the
23rd of October, 1730, and the incomparable Oldfield was no more.
Surely old Sol did not shine on London that day; surely he must
have mourned behind the leaden English sky for one of his fairest
daughters, that child of sunshine who brightened the world by her
presence, and made her exit, as she did her entrance, with a smile.
After the breath had left Anne's still lovely body, Mistress Saunders
dressed her in a "Brussels lace head-dress, a Holland shift, with
tucker and double ruffles of the same lace, and a pair of new
kid gloves." It was, no doubt, the costume which the actress had
commanded, and handsome she must have looked, as many an admirer took
one last glimpse of the remains prior to the interment in Westminster
Abbey. All that was mortal of Oldfield lay in state in the Jerusalem
Chamber,[A] and then there followed an elaborate funeral, at which
were present a host of great men, and the two sons of the deceased,
Mr. Maynwaring and young Churchill. Were these sons less grieved when
they found that their mother had left them the major part of her
[Footnote A: The solemn lying in state of an English actress in the
Jerusalem Chamber, the sorrow of the public over their lost favourite,
and the regret of friends in noble, or humble, but virtuous homes,
where Mrs. Oldfield had been ever welcome, contrast strongly with the
French sentiment towards French players. It has been already said,
that as long as Clairon exercised the power, when she advanced to the
footlights, to make the (then standing) pit recoil several feet, by
the mere magic of her eyes, the pit, who enjoyed the terror as a
luxury, flung crowns to her, and wept at the thought of losing her;
but Clairon infirm was Clairon forgotten, and to a decaying actor or
actress a French audience is the most merciless in the world. The
brightest and best of them, as with us, died in the service of the
public. Monfleury, Mondory, and Bricourt died of apoplexy, brought on
by excess of zeal. Moliere, who fell in harness, was buried with
less ceremony than some favourite dog. The charming Lecouvreur, that
Oldfield of the French stage, whose beauty and intellect were the
double charm which rendered theatrical France ecstatic, was hurriedly
interred within a saw-pit. Bishops might be exceedingly interested in,
and unepiscopally generous to living actresses of wit and beauty, but
the prelates smote them with a "Maranatha!" and an "Avaunt ye!" when
Later on Savage was inspired to write that famous poem of his,
unsigned though it appeared, on the virtues of the departed:
"Oldfield's no more! and can the Muse forbear
O'er Oldfield's grave to shed a grateful tear?
Shall she, the Glory of the British Stage,
Pride of her sex, and wonder of the age;
Shall she, who, living, charm'd th' admiring throng,
Die undistinguish'd, and not claim a song?
No; feeble as it is, I'll boldly raise
My willing voice, to celebrate her praise,
And with her name immortalise my lays.
Had but my Muse her art to touch the soul,
Charm ev'ry sense, and ev'ry pow'r control,
I'd paint her as she was--the form divine,
Where ev'ry lovely grace united shine;
A mein majestic, as the wife of Jove;
An air as winning as the Queen of Love:
In ev'ry feature rival charms should rise,
And Cupid hold his empire in her eyes.
A soul, with ev'ry elegance refin'd,
By nature, and the converse of mankind:
Wit, which could strike assuming folly dead;
And sense, which temper'd ev'ry thing she said;
Judgment, which ev'ry little fault could spy;
But candour, which would pass a thousand by:
Such finish'd breeding, so polite a taste,
Her fancy always for the fashion pass'd;
Whilst every social virtue fir'd her breast
To help the needy, succour the distrest;
A friend to all in misery she stood,
And her chief pride was plac'd in doing good.
But now, my Muse, the arduous task engage,
And shew the charming figure on the stage;
Describe her look, her action, voice and mein,
The gay coquette, soft maid, or haughty Queen.
So bright she shone, in ev'ry different part,
She gain'd despotic empire o'er the heart;
Knew how each various motion to control,
Sooth ev'ry passion, and subdue the soul:
As she, o'er gay, or sorrowful appears,
She claims our mirth, or triumphs in our tears.
When Cleopatra's form she chose to wear
We saw the monarch's mein, the beauty's air;
Charmed with the sight, her cause we all approve,
And, like her lover, give up all for love:
Anthony's fate, instead of Caesar's choose,
And wish for her we had a world to lose.
But now the gay delightful scene is o'er,
And that sweet form must glad our world no more;
Relentless death has stop'd the tuneful tongue,
And clos'd those eyes, for all, but death, too strong,
Blasted that face where ev'ry beauty bloom'd,
And to Eternal Rest the graceful Mover doom'd."
In writing which Savage almost justified his existence.
(_What Addison has to say about it in the "Spectator_")
No. 44. FRIDAY, APRIL 20, 1711.
"Tu quid ego, et populus mecum desideret, audi."
HOR. ARS POET. ver. 153.
"Now hear what ev'ry auditor expects."
Among the several artifices which are put in practice by the poets to
fill the minds of an audience with terror, the first place is due to
thunder and lightning, which are often made use of at the descending
of a god, or the rising of a ghost, at the vanishing of a devil, or
at the death of a tyrant. I have known a bell introduced into several
tragedies with good effect; and have seen the whole assembly in a very
great alarm all the while it has been ringing. But there is nothing
which delights and terrifies our English theatre so much as a ghost,
especially when he appears in a bloody shirt. A spectre has very often
saved a play, though he has done nothing but stalked across the stage,
or rose through a cleft of it, and sunk again without speaking one
word. There may be a proper season for these several terrors; and when
they only come in as aids and assistances to the poet, they are not
only to be excused, but to be applauded. Thus the sounding of the
clock in "Venice Preserved" makes the hearts of the whole audience
quake, and conveys a stronger terror to the mind than it is possible
for words to do. The appearance of the ghost in "Hamlet" is a
masterpiece in its kind, and wrought up with all the circumstances
that can create either attention or horror. The mind of the reader is
wonderfully prepared for his reception by the discourses that precede
it. His dumb behaviour at his first entrance strikes the imagination
very strongly; but every time he enters he is still more terrifying.
Who can read the speech with which young Hamlet accosts him without
"_Hor_. Look, my Lord, it comes!
"_Ham_. Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damn'd;
Bring with thee airs from heav'n, or blasts from hell;
Be thy events wicked or charitable;
Thou com'st in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee. I'll call thee Hamlet,
King, Father, Royal Dane. Oh I answer me.
Let me not burst in ignorance; but tell
Why thy canoniz'd bones, hearsed in death,
Have burst their cerements? Why the sepulchre,
Wherein we saw thee quietly inurn'd,
Hath op'd his ponderous and marble jaws
To cast thee up again? What may this mean?
That thou dead corse again in complete steel
Revisit'st thus the glimpses of the moon,
Making night hideous?"
I do not therefore find fault with the artifices above mentioned,
when they are introduced with skill and accompanied by proportionable
sentiments and expressions in the writings.
For the moving of pity our principal machine is the handkerchief; and
indeed in our common tragedies we should not know very often that the
persons are in distress by anything they say, if they did not from
time to time apply their handkerchiefs to their eyes. Far be it from
me to think of banishing this instrument of sorrow from the stage; I
know a tragedy could not subsist without it: all that I would contend
for is to keep it from being misapplied. In a word, I would have the
actor's tongue sympathise with his eyes.
A disconsolate mother, with a child in her hand, has frequently drawn
compassion from the audience, and has therefore gained a place in
several tragedies. A modern writer, that observed how this had took
in other plays, being resolved to double the distress, and melt
his audience twice as much as those before him had done, brought a
princess upon the stage with a little boy in one hand and a girl
in the other. This too had a very good effect. A third poet being
resolved to outwrite all his predecessors, a few years ago introduced
three children with great success: and, as I am informed, a young
gentleman, who is fully determined to break the most obdurate hearts,
has a tragedy by him where the first person that appears upon the
stage is an afflicted widow in her mourning weeds, with half a dozen
fatherless children attending her, like those that usually hang about
the figure of Charity. Thus several incidents that are beautiful in a
good writer become ridiculous by falling into the hands of a bad one.
But among all our methods of moving pity or terror, there is none so
absurd and barbarous, and which more exposes us to the contempt and
ridicule of our neighbours, than that dreadful butchering of one
another, which is very frequent upon the English stage. To delight in
seeing men stabbed, poisoned, racked, or impaled is certainly the sign
of a cruel temper; and as this is often practised before the British
audience, several French critics, who think these are grateful
spectacles to us, take occasion from them to represent us as a people
who delight in blood. It is indeed very odd to see our stage strewed
with carcasses in the last scenes of a tragedy; and to observe in the
wardrobe of the playhouse several daggers, poniards, wheels, bowls for
poison, and many other instruments of death. Murders and executions
are always transacted behind the scenes in the French theatre, which
in general is very agreeable to the manners of a polite and civilised
people; but as there are no exceptions to this rule on the French
stage, it leads them into absurdities almost as ridiculous as that
which falls under our present censure. I remember in the famous play
of Corneille, written upon the subject of the Horatii and Curiatii,
the fierce young hero, who had overcome the Curiatii one after another
(instead of being congratulated by his sister for his victory, being
upbraided by her for having slain her lover), in the height of his
passion and resentment kills her. If anything could extenuate so
brutal an action, it would be the doing of it on a sudden, before the
sentiments of nature, reason, or manhood could take place in him.
However, to avoid public bloodshed, as soon as his passion is wrought
to its height, he follows his sister the whole length of the stage,
and forbears killing her till they are both withdrawn behind the
scenes. I must confess, had he murdered her before the audience, the
indecency might have been greater; but as it is, it appears very
unnatural, and looks like killing in cold blood. To give my opinion
upon this case, the fact ought not to have been represented, but to
have been told if there was any occasion for it.
It may not be unacceptable to the reader to see how Sophocles has
conducted a tragedy under the like delicate circumstance. Orestes was
in the same condition with Hamlet in Shakespeare, his mother having
murdered his father and taken possession of his kingdom in conspiracy
with her adulterer. That young prince, therefore, being determined to
revenge his father's death upon those who filled his throne, conveys
himself by a beautiful stratagem into his mother's apartment, with a
resolution to kill her. But because such a spectacle would have been
too shocking to the audience, this dreadful resolution is executed
behind the scenes. The mother is heard calling to her son for mercy,
and the son answering her that she showed no mercy to his father;
after which she shrieks out that she is wounded, and by what follows
we find that she is slain. I do not remember that in any of our plays
there are speeches made behind the scenes, though there are other
instances of this nature to be met with in those of the ancients:
and I believe my reader will agree with me that there is something
infinitely more affecting in this dreadful dialogue between the
mother and her son behind the scenes than could have been in anything
transacted before the audience. Orestes immediately after meets the
usurper at the entrance of his palace; and by a very happy thought of
the poet avoids killing him before the audience, by telling him that
he should live some time in his present bitterness of soul before he
would despatch him, and by ordering him to retire into that part
of the palace where he had slain his father, whose murder he would
revenge in the very same place where it was committed. By this means
the poet observes that decency, which Horace afterwards established as
a rule, of forbearing to commit parricides or unnatural murders before
"Nec pueros coram populo Medea trucidet,"
ARS POET. ver. 185.
"Let not Medea draw her murd'ring knife,
And spill her children's blood upon the stage."
The French have therefore refined too much upon Horace's rule, who
never designed to banish all kinds of death from the stage; but only
such as had too much horror in them, and which would have a better
effect upon the audience when transacted behind the scenes. I would
therefore recommend to my countrymen the practice of the ancient
poets, who were very sparing of their public executions, and rather
chose to perform them behind the scenes, if it could be done with as
great an effect upon the audience. At the same time, I must observe,
that though the devoted persons of the tragedy were seldom slain
before the audience, which has generally something ridiculous in it,
their bodies were often produced after their death, which has always
in it something melancholy or terrifying; so that the killing on the
stage does not seem to have been avoided only as an indecency, but
also as an improbability.
"Nec pueros coram populo Medea trucidet:
Aut humana palam coquat exta nefarius Atreus;
Aut in avem Progne vertatur, Cadmus in anguem.
Quodcunque ostendis mihi sic, incredulus odi."
HOR. ARS. POET. ver. 185.
"Medea must not draw her murd'ring knife,
Nor Atreus there his horrid feast prepare;
Cadmus and Progne's metamorphoses
(She to a swallow turn'd, he to a snake);
And whatsoever contradicts my sense,
I hate to see, and never can believe."
I have now gone through the several dramatic inventions which are made
use of by the ignorant poets to supply the place of tragedy, and
by the skilful to improve it; some of which I could wish entirely
rejected, and the rest to be used with caution. It would be an
endless task to consider comedy in the same light, and to mention the
innumerable shifts that small wits put in practice to raise a laugh.
Bullock in a short coat, and Norris in a long one, seldom failed of
this effect.[A] In ordinary comedies a broad and a narrow brimmed
hat are different characters. Sometimes the wit of a scene lies in a
shoulder-belt, and sometimes in a pair of whiskers. A lover running
about the stage, with his head peeping out of a barrel, was thought a
very good jest in King Charles the Second's time, and invented by
one of the first wits of the age.[B] But because ridicule is not so
delicate as compassion, and because the objects that make us laugh are
infinitely more numerous than those that make us weep, there is a much
greater latitude for comic than tragic artifices, and by consequence a
much greater indulgence to be allowed them.
[Footnote A: Addison's comment about these two favourite comedians
shows that then, as now, eccentricity in dress formed a popular
species of stage humour.]
[Footnote B: Sir George Etherege, in his comedy of "The Comical
Revenge, or Love in a Tub."]
_(From the "Spectator")_
No. 338. FRIDAY, MARCH 28, 1712.
"Nil fuit unquam
Sic dispar sibi."
HOR. SAT. III. 1-1-18.
"Made up of nought but inconsistencies."
I find the tragedy of the "Distressed Mother" is published to-day. The
author of the prologue,[A] I suppose pleads an old excuse I have read
somewhere, of "being dull with design;" and the gentleman who writ the
epilogue[B] has, to my knowledge, so much of greater moment to value
himself upon, that he will easily forgive me for publishing the
exceptions made against gaiety at the end of serious entertainments in
the following letter: I should be more unwilling to pardon him, than
anybody, a practice which cannot have any ill consequence, but from
the abilities of the person who is guilty of it.
[Footnote A: Steele.]
[Footnote B: Addison credited Budgell with the epilogue.]
"MR. SPECTATOR,--I had the happiness the other night of sitting very
near you, and your worthy friend Sir Roger, at the acting of the new
tragedy, which you have in a late paper or two so justly recommended.
I was highly pleased with the advantageous situation fortune had given
me in placing me so near two gentlemen, from one of which I was sure
to hear such reflections on the several incidents of the play as pure
nature suggested; and from the other, such as flowed from the exactest
art and judgment; though I must confess that my curiosity led me so
much to observe the knight's reflections that I was not so well at
leisure to improve myself by yours. Nature, I found, played her part
in the knight pretty well, till at the last concluding lines she
entirely forsook him. You must know, Sir, that it is always my custom,
when I have been well entertained at a new tragedy, to make my retreat
before the facetious epilogue enters; not but that those pieces are
often very well writ, but having paid down my half-crown, and made a
fair purchase of as much of the pleasing melancholy as the poet's art
can afford me, or my own nature admit of, I am willing to carry some
of it home with me; and cannot endure to be at once tricked out of
all, though by the wittiest dexterity in the world. However, I kept my
seat the other night, in hopes of finding my own sentiments of this
matter favoured by your friend's; when, to my great surprise, I found
the knight, entering with equal pleasure into both parts, and as much
satisfied with Mrs. Oldfield's gaiety, as he had been before with
Andromache's greatness. Whether this were no more than an effect of
the knight's peculiar humanity, pleased to find at last, that, after
all the tragical doings, everything was safe and well, I do not know.
But for my own part, I must confess I was so dissatisfied, that I was
sorry the poet had saved Andromache, and could heartily have wished
that he had left her stone-dead upon the stage. For you cannot
imagine, Mr. Spectator, the mischief she was reserved to do me. I
found my soul, during the action, gradually worked up to the highest
pitch; and felt the exalted passion which all generous minds conceive
at the sight of virtue in distress. The impression, believe me, Sir,
was so strong upon me, that I am persuaded, if I had been let alone in
it, I could at an extremity have ventured to defend yourself and Sir
Roger against half a score of the fiercest Mohocks; but the ludicrous
epilogue in the close extinguished all my ardour, and made me look
upon all such noble achievements as downright silly and romantic. What
the rest of the audience felt, I cannot so well tell. For myself I
must declare, that at the end of the play I found my soul uniform,
and all of a piece; but at the end of the epilogue, it was so jumbled
together and divided between jest and earnest, that, if you will
forgive me an extravagant fancy, I will here set it down. I could
not but fancy, if my soul had at that moment quitted my body, and
descended to the poetical shades in the posture it was then in, what
a strange figure it would have made among them. They would not have
known what to have made of my motley spectre, half comic and half
tragic, all over resembling a ridiculous face, that, at the same time,
laughs on one side, and cries on the other. The only defence, I think,
I have ever heard made for this, as it seems to me the most unnatural
tack of the comic tail to the tragic head, is this, that the minds of
the audience must be refreshed, and gentlemen and ladies not sent away
to their own homes with too dismal and melancholy thoughts about them:
for who knows the consequence of this? We are much obliged indeed to
poets for the great tenderness they express for the safety of our
persons, and heartily thank them for it. But if that be all, pray,
good Sir, assure them, that we are none of us like to come to any
great harm; and that, let them do their best, we shall, in all
probability, live out the length of our days, and frequent the
theatres more than ever. What makes me more desirous to have some
reformation of this matter is, because of an ill consequence or two
attending it: for a great many of our church musicians being related
to the theatre, they have, in imitation of these epilogues, introduced
in their farewell voluntaries, a sort of music quite foreign to the
design of church-services, to the great prejudice of well-disposed
people. Those fingering gentlemen should be informed, that they ought
to suit their airs to the place and business; and that the musician is
obliged to keep to the text as much as the preacher. For want of this,
I have found by experience a great deal of mischief. For when the
preacher has often, with great piety, and art enough, handled his
subject, and the judicious clerk has with the utmost diligence called
out two staves proper to the discourse, and I have found in myself,
and in the rest of the pew, good thoughts and dispositions, they have
been all in a moment dissipated by a merry jig from the organ loft.
One knows not what further ill effects the epilogues I have been
speaking of may in time produce: but this I am credibly informed of,
that Paul Lorrain[A] has resolved upon a very sudden reformation in
his tragical dramas; and that, at the next monthly performance, he
designs, instead of a penitential psalm, to dismiss his audience with
an excellent new ballad of his own composing. Pray, Sir, do what you
can to put a stop to these growing evils, and you will very much
oblige your humble servant,
[Footnote A: At that time ordinary of Newgate; and who, in his
accounts of the convicts executed at Tyburn, generally represented
them as true penitents, and dying very well.]
No. 341. TUESDAY, APRIL 1, 1712.
"--Revocate animos, maestumque timorem
VIRG. AEN.I. 206.
"Resume your courage, and dismiss your care."
Having, to oblige my correspondent Physibulus, printed his letter last
Friday, in relation to the new epilogue, he cannot take it amiss, if I
now publish another, which I have just received from a gentleman who
does not agree with him in his sentiments upon that matter.
"Sir,--I am amazed to find an epilogue attacked in your last Friday's
paper, which has been so generally applauded by the town, and received
such honours as were never before given to any in an English theatre.
"The audience would not permit Mrs. Oldfield to go off the stage the
first night till she had repeated it twice; the second night the noise
of _ancora_ was as loud as before, and she was again obliged to speak
it twice; the third night it was called for a second time; and, in
short, contrary to all other epilogues, which are dropped after the
third representation of the play, this has already been repeated nine
"I must own I am the more surprised to find this censure, in
opposition to the whole town, in a paper which has hitherto been
famous for the candour of its criticisms.
"I can by no means allow your melancholy correspondent, that the
new epilogue is unnatural, because it is gay. If I had a mind to be
learned, I could tell him that the prologue and epilogue were real
parts of the ancient tragedy; but every one knows, that on the British
stage, they are distinct performances by themselves, pieces entirely
detached from the play, and no way essential to it.
"The moment the play ends, Mrs. Oldfield is no more Andromache, but
Mrs. Oldfield; and though the poet had left Andromache stone-dead upon
the stage, as your ingenious correspondent phrases it, Mrs. Oldfield
might still have spoke a merry epilogue. We have an instance of this
in a tragedy where there is not only a death, but a martyrdom.[A] St.
Catherine was there personated by Nell Gwyn; she lies stone-dead upon
the stage, but, upon those gentlemen's offering to remove her body,
whose business it is to carry off the slain in our English tragedies,
she breaks out into that abrupt beginning of what was a very
ludicrous, but at the same time thought a very good epilogue:--
"'Hold: are you mad? you damn'd confounded dog!
I am to rise and speak the epilogue.'
[Footnote A: "Tyrannic Love; or, the Royal Martyr." By Dryden.]
"This diverting manner was always practised by Mr. Dryden, who, if he
was not the best writer of tragedies in his time, was allowed by every
one to have the happiest turn for a prologue or an epilogue. The
epilogues to 'Cleomenes,' 'Don Sebastian,' the 'Duke of Guise,'
'Aurengezebe,' and 'Love Triumphant,' are all precedents of this
"I might further justify this practice by that excellent epilogue
which was spoken, a few years since, after the tragedy of 'Phaedra and
Hippolitus;'[A] with a great many others, in which the authors have
endeavoured to make the audience merry. If they have not all succeeded
so well as the writer of this, they have however shown that it was not
for want of good will.
[Footnote A: By Edmund Neal.]
"I must further observe, that the gaiety of it may be still the more
proper, as it is at the end of a French play; since every one knows
that nation, who are generally esteemed to have as polite a taste as
any in Europe, always close their tragic entertainments with what they
call a _petite piece_, which is purposely designed to raise mirth, and
send away the audience well pleased. The same person who has supported
the chief character in the tragedy, very often plays the principal
part in the _petite piece_; so that I have myself seen, at Paris,
Orestes and Lubin acted the same night by the same man.
"Tragi-comedy, indeed, you have yourself, in a former speculation,
found fault with very justly, because it breaks the tide of the
passions, while they are yet flowing; but this is nothing at all to
the present case, where they have already had their full course.
"As the new epilogue is written conformably to the practice of our
best poets, so it is not such an one, which, as the Duke of Buckingham
says in his 'Rehearsal,' might serve for any other play; but wholly
rises out of the occurrences of the piece it was composed for.
"The only reason your mournful correspondent gives against this
facetious epilogue, as he calls it, is, that he has a mind to go home
melancholy. I wish the gentleman may not be more grave than wise. For
my own part, I must confess, I think it very sufficient to have the
anguish of a fictitious piece remain upon me while it is representing;
but I love to be sent home to bed in a good humour. If Physibulus is
however resolved to be inconsolable, and not to have his tears dried
up, he need only continue his old custom, and when he has had his
half-crown's worth of sorrow, slink out before the epilogue begins.
"It is pleasant enough to hear this tragical genius complaining of the
great mischief Andromache had done him. What was that? Why, she
made him laugh. The poor gentleman's sufferings put me in mind of
Harlequin's case, who was tickled to death. He tells us soon after,
through a small mistake of sorrow for rage, that during the whole
action he was so very sorry, that he thinks he could have attacked
half a score of the fiercest Mohawks in the excess of his grief. I
cannot but look upon it as a happy accident, that a man who is so
bloody-minded in his affliction, was diverted from this fit of
outrageous melancholy. The valour of this gentleman in his distress
brings to one's memory the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance, who
lays about him at such an unmerciful rate in an old romance. I shall
readily grant him that his soul, as he himself says, would have made a
very ridiculous figure, had it quitted the body and descended to the
poetical shades in such an encounter.
"As to his conceit of tacking a tragic head with a comic tail, in
order to refresh the audience, it is such a piece of jargon, that I
don't know what to make of it.
"The elegant writer makes a very sudden transition from the playhouse
to the church, and from thence to the gallows.
"As for what relates to the church, he is of opinion that these
epilogues have given occasion to those merry jigs from the organ-loft,
which have dissipated those good thoughts and dispositions he has
found in himself, and the rest of the pew, upon the singing of two
staves culled out by the judicious and diligent clerk.
"He fetches his next thought from Tyburn; and seems very apprehensive
lest there should happen any innovations in the tragedies of his
friend Paul Lorrain.
"In the mean time, Sir, this gloomy writer, who is so mightily
scandalised at a gay epilogue after a serious play, speaking of
the fate of those unhappy wretches who are condemned to suffer an
ignominious death by the justice of our laws, endeavours to make
the reader merry on so improper an occasion by those poor burlesque
expressions of tragical dramas and monthly performances.--I am,
Sir, with great respect, your most obedient, most humble servant,
ON DRAMATIC CRITICS
(_Addison in the "Spectator_")
No. 592. FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 1714.
"--Studium sine divite veni."
HOR. ARS POET. 409.
"Art without a vein."
I look upon the playhouse as a world within itself. They have lately
furnished the middle region of it with a new set of meteors, in order
to give the sublime to many modern tragedies. I was there last winter
at the first rehearsal of the new thunder,[A] which is much more deep
and sonorous than any hitherto made use of. They have a Salmonus
behind the scenes who plays it off with great success. Their
lightnings are made to flash more briskly than heretofore; their
clouds are also better furbelowed, and more voluminous; not to mention
a violent storm locked up in a great chest, that is designed for the
"Tempest." They are also provided with above a dozen showers of snow,
which, as I am informed, are the plays of many unsuccessful poets
artificially cut and shredded for that use. Mr. Rymer's "Edgar" is to
fall in snow, at the next acting of "King Lear," in order to heighten,
or rather to alleviate, the distress of that unfortunate prince; and
to serve by way of decoration to a piece which that great critic has
[Footnote A: Mr. Dennis's new and approved method of making thunder.
Dennis had contrived this thunder for the advantage of his tragedy of
"Appius and Virginia"; the players highly approved of it, and it is
the same that is used at the present day. Notwithstanding the effect
of this thunder, however, the play was coldy received, and laid aside.
Some nights after, Dennis being in the pit at the representation of
"Macbeth," and hearing the thunder made use of, arose from his seat in
a violent passion, exclaiming with an oath, that that was his thunder.
"See (said he) how these rascals use me: they will not let my play
run, and yet they steal my thunder."--"Notes on the _Spectator_."]
I do not indeed wonder that the actors should be such professed
enemies to those among our nation who are commonly known by the name
of critics, since it is a rule among these gentlemen to fall upon a
play, not because it is ill written, but because it takes. Several of
them lay it down as a maxim, that whatever dramatic performance has a
long run, must of necessity be good for nothing; as though the first
precept in poetry were "not to please." Whether this rule holds good
or not, I shall leave to the determination of those who are better
judges than myself; if it does, I am sure it tends very much to the
honour of those gentlemen who have established it; few of their pieces
having been disgraced by a run of three days, and most of them being
so exquisitely written, that the town would never give them more than
one night's hearing.
I have great esteem for a true critic, such as Aristotle and Longinus
among the Greeks; Horace and Quintilian among the Romans; Boileau and
Dacier among the French. But it is our misfortune, that some, who set
up for professed critics among us, are so stupid, that they do not
know how to put ten words together with elegance or common propriety;
and withal so illiterate, that they have no taste of the learned
languages, and therefore criticise upon old authors only at second
hand. They judge of them by what others have written, and not by any
notions they have of the authors themselves. The words unity, action,
sentiment and diction, pronounced with an air of authority, give them
a figure among unlearned readers, who are apt to believe they are very
deep because they are unintelligible. The ancient critics are full
of the praises of their contemporaries; they discover beauties which
escaped the observation of the vulgar, and very often find out reasons
for palliating and excusing such little slips and oversights as were
committed in the writings of eminent authors. On the contrary, most
of the smatterers in criticism, who appear among us, make it their
business to vilify and depreciate every new production that gains
applause, to descry imaginary blemishes, and to prove, by farfetched
arguments, that what pass for beauties in any celebrated piece are
faults and errors. In short, the writings of these critics, compared
with those of the ancients, are like the works of the sophists
compared with those of the old philosophers.
Envy and cavil are the natural fruits of laziness and ignorance; which
was probably the reason that in the heathen mythology Momus is said
to be the son of Nox and Somnus, of darkness and sleep. Idle men, who
have not been at the pains to accomplish or distinguish themselves,
are very apt to detract from others; as ignorant men are very subject
to decry those beauties in a celebrated work which they have not eyes
to discover. Many of our sons of Momus, who dignify themselves by the
name of critics, are the genuine descendants of these two illustrious
ancestors. They are often led into these numerous absurdities in which
they daily instruct the people, by not considering that, first, there
is sometimes a greater judgment shown in deviating from the rules of
art than in adhering to them; and, secondly, that there is more beauty
in the works of a great genius, who is ignorant of all the rules of
art, than in the works of a little genius, who not only knows but
scrupulously observes them.
First, we may often take notice of men who are perfectly acquainted
with all the rules of good writing, and notwithstanding choose to
depart from them on extraordinary occasions. I could give instances
out of all the tragic writers of antiquity who have shown their
judgment in this particular; and purposely receded from an established
rule of the drama, when it has made way for a much higher beauty
than the observation of such a rule would have been. Those who have
surveyed the noblest pieces of architecture and statuary, both ancient
and modern, know very well that there are frequent deviations from
art in the works of the greatest masters, which have produced a much
nobler effect than a more accurate and exact way of proceeding could
have done. This often arises from what the Italians call the _gusto
grande_ in these arts, which is what we call the sublime in writing.
In the next place, our critics do not seem sensible that there is more
beauty in the works of a great genius, who is ignorant of the rules of
art, than in those of a little genius who knows and observes them. It
is of those men of genius that Terrence speaks in opposition to the
little artificial cavillers of his time:
"Quorum aemulari expotat negligentiam
Potius quam istorum obscuram diligentiam."
AND. PROL. 20.
"Whose negligence he would rather imitate, than these men's obscure
A critic may have the same consolation in the ill success of his play
as Dr. South tells us a physician has at the death of a patient,
that he was killed _secundum artem_. Our inimitable Shakespeare is a
stumbling-block to the whole tribe of these rigid critics. Who would
not rather read one of his plays, where there is not a single rule of
the stage observed, than any production of a modern critic where there
is not one of them violated![A] Shakespeare was indeed born with all
the seeds of poetry, and may be compared to the stone in Pyrrhus's
ring, which, as Pliny tells us, had the figure of Apollo and the nine
Muses in the veins of it, produced by the spontaneous hand of Nature
without any help from art.
[Footnote A: With all his fondness for classic models, Addison breaks
away from conventionality of form in this essay, and pays his tribute
to the genius of Shakespeare. But critical Joe could never forget the
bard's so-called "faults" of construction.]
(_Steele in "The Tatler," No. 42_)
It is now twelve of the clock at noon, and no mail come in; therefore
I am not without hopes that the town will allow me the liberty
which my brother news-writers take in giving them what may be for
information in another kind, and indulge me in doing an act of
friendship, by publishing the following account of goods and
This is to give notice, that a magnificent palace, with great
variety of gardens, statues, and water works, may be bought cheap in
Drury-lane; where there are likewise several castles, to be disposed
of, very delightfully situated; as also groves, woods, forests,
fountains, and country-seats, with very pleasant prospects on all
sides of them; being the moveables of Christopher Rich, Esquire,[A]
who is breaking up house-keeping, and has many curious pieces of
furniture to dispose of, which may be seen between the hours of six
and ten in the evening.
[Footnote A: This essay was written (July, 1709) at the time that
Drury Lane was closed, by order of the Lord Chamberlain.]
Spirits of right Nantz brandy, for lambent flames and apparitions.
Three bottles and a half of lightning.
One shower of snow in the whitest French paper.
Two showers of a browner sort.
A sea, consisting of a dozen large waves; the tenth bigger than
ordinary, and a little damaged.
A dozen and a half of clouds, trimmed with black, and well
A rainbow, a little faded.
A set of clouds after the French mode, streaked with lightning and
A new moon, something decayed.
A pint of the finest Spanish wash, being all that is left of two
hogsheads sent over last winter.
A coach very finely gilt, and little used, with a pair of dragons, to
be sold cheap.
A setting-sun, a pennyworth.
An imperial mantle, made for Cyrus the Great, and worn by Julius
Caesar, Bajazet, King Harry the Eighth, and Signor Valentini.
A basket-hilted sword, very convenient to carry milk in.
The imperial robes of Xerxes, never worn but once.
A wild boar killed by Mrs. Tofts[A] and Dioclesian.
[Footnote A: A favourite singer of the day.]
A serpent to sting Cleopatra.
A mustard-bowl to make thunder with.
Another of a bigger sort, by Mr. D----'s[A] directions, little used.
[Footnote A: John Dennis, the critic.]
Six elbow-chairs, very expert in country dances, with six flower-pots
for their partners.
The whiskers of a Turkish Pasha.
The complexion of a murderer in a band-box; consisting of a large
piece of burnt cork, and a coal-black peruke.
A suit of clothes for a ghost, viz., a bloody shirt, a doublet
curiously pinked, and a coat with three great eyelet-holes upon the
A bale of red Spanish wool.
Modern plots, commonly known by the name of trapdoors, ladders of
ropes, vizard-masques, and tables with broad carpets over them.
Three oak-cudgels, with one of crab-tree; all bought for the use of
[Footnote A: The comedian.]
Materials for dancing; as masques, castanets, and a ladder of ten
Aurengezebe's scymitar, made by Will Brown in Piccadilly.
A plume of feathers, never used but by Oedipus and the Earl of Essex.
There are also swords, halbards, sheep-hooks, cardinals' hats,
turbans, drums, gallipots, a gibbet, a cradle, a rack, a cart-wheel,
an altar, an helmet, a back-piece, a breast-plate, a bell, a tub, and
a jointed baby.
ACTORS AND AUDIENCE.
(_From Cibber's "Apology_")
Among our many necessary reformations, what not a little preserved to
us the regard of our auditors was the decency of our clear stage, from
whence we had now for many years shut out those idle gentlemen who
seemed more delighted to be pretty objects themselves than capable of
any pleasure from the play; who took their daily stands where they
might best elbow the actor, and come in for their share of the
auditor's attention. In many a laboured scene of the wannest humour
and of the most affecting passion I have seen the best actors
disconcerted, while these buzzing muscatos have been fluttering round
their eyes and ears. How was it possible an actor, so embarrassed,
should keep his impatience from entering into that different temper
which his personated character might require him to be master of?
Future actors may perhaps wish I would set this grievance in a
stronger light; and, to say the truth, where auditors are ill-bred, it
cannot well be expected that actors should be polite. Let me therefore
show how far an artist in any science is apt to be hurt by any sort of
inattention to his performance.
While the famous Corelli,[A] at Rome, was playing some musical
composition of his own to a select company in the private apartment of
his patron-Cardinal, he observed, in the heighth of his harmony,
his Eminence was engaging in a detached conversation, upon which
he suddenly stopt short and gently laid down his instrument. The
Cardinal, surprised at the unexpected cessation, asked him if a string
was broke? To which Corelli, in an honest conscience of what was due
to his musick, reply'd, "No, Sir, I was only afraid I enterrupted
business." His Eminence, who knew that a genius could never shew
itself to advantage where it had not its regards, took this reproof in
good part, and broke off his conversation to hear the whole concerto
played over again.
[Footnote A: Arcangelo Corelli, the "father of modern instrumental
Another story will let us see what effect a mistaken offence of this
kind had upon the French theatre, which was told me by a gentleman of
the long robe, then at Paris, and who was himself the innocent author
of it. At the tragedy of "Zaire," while the celebrated Mademoiselle
Gossin[A] was delivering a soliloquy, this gentleman was seized with
a sudden fit of coughing, which gave the actress some surprise and
interruption; and his fit increasing, she was forced to stand silent
so long that it drew the eyes of the uneasy audience upon him, when a
French gentleman, leaning forward to him, asked him, If this actress
had given him any particular offence, that he took so publick an
occasion to resent it? The English gentleman, in the utmost surprise,
assured him, So far from it, that he was a particular admirer of
her performance; that his malady was his real misfortune, and if he
apprehended any return of it, he would rather quit his seat than
disoblige either the actress or the audience.
[Footnote A: Jeanne, Catherine Gossin, of the Comedie Francaise.]