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so many women, who have been patterns of their sex, have been actresses, it may be safely affirmed, that a young débutante, ambitious of first-rate rank as an actress, would find the greatest talents scarcely available without personal respectability of character. Still there are persons, not puritanical, who think it derogatory to female delicacy to meet the gaze of spectators in impassioned parts. This objection, I grant, may apply to private theatricals. The unprofessional actress, who makes and returns love-speeches before an audience, is likely to have no better motive than her vanity. But the public actress has a fair apology, and her professional publicity is an additional challenge to her virtuous pride.
We sometimes hear the player's vocation pronounced degrading, because it exposes him to public insults; but this is certainly a most unfair argument, at least when it comes from those who frequent the theatre. By attending such entertainments, they recognise the player as a dispenser of innocent amusement; and when they insult him, merely because he fails to please, they are, no doubt, obliging the actor to ply a degrading vocation; but if cruelty and injustice be disgraceful, they are also degrading themselves. Either it should be proved that the stage is noxious to society, and that it should Therefore be abolished, or, if it be tolerated, the player's occupation should be made as respectable as possible by good treatment. Even if it were admitted, for the sake of argument, that there is something in the actor's life (that something I leave to others to ascertain) which necessarily tends to impress faults on his moral character, still, what profession can be named which, if it finds any weaknesses in the nature of a man, will not tend to increase them and bring them out? All professions tend, more or less, to stamp us with something peculiar, and not always with amiable peculiarities. Yet society wisely honours several professions for their general usefulness, though they labour under this objection. To give but one instance: The world very properly holds the barrister's calling in high respect; for we know that life and property would be less secure than they now are, if every man were to be his own lawyer. And yet it is notorious, that the lawyer's life, which makes him daily and hourly a hireling either on the right side or the wrong side of a cause, as his brief may chance to call him, must tend to imbue his mind with a taste for sophistry, as well as with adroitness in the practice of it. In fact, there is a great deal of acting, both in courts of justice and elsewhere, that goes by a different name.
If I should appear all this time to be begging the question, and to be assuming that theatrical amusements are de facto indispensable to society, I would only ask of those who object to them, to say if, practically speaking, they could be done away with? Would the public permit you to shut up the theatres ? No; no more (I speak it respectfully) than to shut up the churches. The love of the drama is a public instinct, that requires to be regulated, but is too deep for eradication. I am no such bigot for the stage as to say that it is necessarily a school of morals ; for, by bad management, it may be made the reverse: and I think, on the whole, that the drama rather follows than leads public morals. At the same time it has a general indirect tendency towards the good of society, which,. if the theatre be kept amenable to decency and public opinion, may make the drama directly promotive of good morals. It contributes to cheersulness, and it draws men from grosser enjoyments. It may be made an innocent, nay, an instructive amusement. As tasteful recreation, it sweetens the public temper. It has well been compared to a mirror, in which we may see ourselves as others see us. But, granting the similitude to be just, the enemy of the theatre will possibly ask me, Has the mirror, at which we dress ourselves, the power of giving symmetry to our features, or of adding an inch to our stature ? No; but still that chamber-mirror will show a man how ugly he looks with an unwashed face, or an angry physiognomy. In like manner, the moral mirror of the drama will show us what passions most become us and most deform us, and may therefore, certainly, instruct us in the regulation of our moral feelings.
To say that the stage is liable to abuse, is to say nothing more than is applicable to every other source of human plea
You cannot excite men joyously without some contingent dangers. The playhouse, say its enemies, is the resort of great numbers of the vicious, the idle, and the dissipated. Unhappily, so are all popular assemblies, not excepting every Methodist meeting in the kingdom. In fact, if you proscribe theatres, you are bound, in consistency, to persecute Methodism, to uproot vineyards, to destroy breweries, and to abolish music and dancing.
And religion says as little as sound morality against plays and players. The Scriptures nowhere stigmatize them, though, in our Saviour's time, there was a theatre in Jerusalem. That theatrical establishment, we know, was forced upon the Jews, at the expense of several lives, by Herod the Great;
and, after his death, if Jesus Christ had thought a theatre among the evils to be extirpated by Christianity, he would have found no topic more popular than an innovation so violent to Jewish feelings. But he has left upon it not the slightest denunciation ; and, in this circumstance, he is imitated by all the Apostles : St. Paul even quotes a dramatic poet, and shows that he was well acquainted with the Attic drama.
It is not positively certain, but it is extremely probable, that the earliest regular actress of the English stage was a Mrs. Saunderson, afterward Mrs. Betterton, the wife of the famous actor. At all events, if not the earliest, she was the greatest actress for many years after the Restoration. Both her husband's theatrical character and her own have been painted by Cibber in memorable colours.
Betterton,” he says, an actor, as Shakspeare was an author, both without competitors, formed for the mutual assistance and illustration of each other's genius. How Shakspeare wrote, all men who have a taste for nature may read and know ; but with higher rapture still would Shakspeare be read, could they conceive how Betterton played him. Pity it is, that the momentary beauties flowing from an harmonious elocution cannot, like those of poetry, be their own record; that the animated graces of the player can live no longer than the instant breath and motion that represent them; or, at least, can but faintly glimmer through the memory and imperfect attestation of a few surviving spectators,"
Mrs.,* or, as we should now call her, Miss Saunderson, married Mr. Betterton in 1663. Cibber speaks of her in 1690, when she was already a veteran on the stage: but he says that, “though far advanced in years, she was still so great an actress that even the famous Mrs. Barry, who acted Lady Macbeth after her, could not in that part, with all her superior strength and melody of voice, throw out those quick and careless strokes of terror which the other gave, with a facility in her manner that rendered her at once tremendous and delightful. Time could not impair her skill, though it gave her person to decay. She was, to the last, the admiration of all true judges of nature and lovers of Shakspeare, in whose plays she chiefly excelled, and without a rival. She was the faithful companion of her husband and his fellow-labourers for five-andforty years, and was a woman of unblemished and sober life. She had the honour to teach Queen Anne, when princess, the
* Unmarried ladies at that time got the title of Mrs.
part of Semandra, in • Mithridates,' which she acted at court in King Charles's time.” After her husband's death, which happened in 1710, the queen gave her a pension. Betterton's death so much affected her that she lost her senses for some time, but recovered them, and survived him for two years.*
While Mr. and Mrs. Betterton were the ornaments of that one of the two great theatres which was called the Duke's, Mrs. Anne Marshall was for many years the principal actress in the King's Company.
She is said to have excelled in parts of dignity. Davies tells us, in his Dramatic Miscellanies, that the high sentiments of honour, in many of her characters, corresponded with the dictates of her mind, and were justified by her private conduct. But Davies got this information from a book of no authority, written by Gildon, and published by Curl, two names that may well make the hair of our literary faith stand on end. We might accept their testimony, perhaps, on the mere ground of its being favourable to Mrs. Marshall, as we may safely take our oaths that neither Curlt nor Gildon ever uttered, in the whole course of their lives, a single falsehood in behalf of any human character except their own. And Mrs. Marshall may have been an excellent woman for aught that appears to the contrary; but, in truth, very little is known about her: for, in the long story of her resisting Lord Oxford's dishonourable addresses, but being at last basely beguiled into a mock marriage, in which his lordship’s coachman was dressed up as a clergyman, Curl has related what happened to a different actress.
That Mrs. Marshall capable, like Mrs. 'Betterton, of sustaining the high characters of Shakspeare, is not at least evinced by the list of her parts ; for in that list I find her performing only one Shakspearian character, namely, Calphurnia, in - Julius Cæsar.” Something like a lingering taste for the great dramatist seems 10 have been kept alive at the Duke's Theatre by the genius of the Bettertons; though, ultimately, they were obliged to appear in plays of Shakspeare basely altered. But at the King's Theatre Shakspeare was fairly
* Among the characters of Shakspeare which she performed were Ophelia, Juliet, Queen Katharine, and Lady Macbeth. For a full list of the parts played by this actress, and by all the other predecessors of Mrs. Siddons whom I have mentioned, I refer the reader, if he is curious on the subject, to Mr. Genest's “ Account of the Stage," published in 1833.
+ Curl was so formidable for getting up lives of people, when they were hardly cold in their coflin, that Dr. Arbuthnot denominated him
one of the new terrors, of Death."
obsolete. Indeed, in that iron age, Ben Jonson himself was not more popular than Crowne, while, for one play of Shakspeare's, probably five of Beaumont and Fletcher's, and seven of Dryden's, were performed.
The sweet-featured Mrs. Boutell was a highly popular actress in that period, from 1663 to 1696. Her forte was simplicity and tenderness, and she was particularly admired in Aspasia, in the “ Maid's Tragedy.” Though Cibber makes no mention of her, the parts which she played denoted her consequence on the stage. She was the original Statira of Lee's 66 Alexander,” and acted the Rival Queens successively with Mrs. Marshall and Mrs. Barry. Once, when playing with the latter of these ladies, she was in danger of dying on the stage in earnest. Before the curtain drew up, the two queens, Statira, Boutell, and Roxana, Barry, had a real rivalship about a lace veil, which was at last awarded to the former by the property-man. This decision so enraged Roxana, that she acted her part rather too naturally, and, in stabbing Statira, sent her dagger, though it was a blunted one, through Mrs. Boutell's stays, about a quarter of an inch into the flesh. Mrs. Elizabeth Barry, however, though a virago, was the best actress of her age, for she eclipsed both Mrs. Marshall and Mrs. Boutell; and Cibber tells us that, in 1696, he found her in possession of all the chief tragic parts.
She was the daughter of Edward Barry, a barrister, who got the title of colonel for having raised a regiment in the cause of Charles I. But as he ruined himself by providing soldiers for Charles, his family were left at his death to' provide for themselves. His orphan daughter was born in 1658. She was educated by the charity of Lady Davenant, a relation of the poet of that name, and by his interest was brought upon the boards in 1673. Her first effort was a failure. With a good voice, she was thought to be utterly defective in ear; and the Duke's company pronounced her incapable of ever becoming an actress. It must be allowed that they were precipitate in their judgment, for the young débutante was then only fifteen years of age. Two years afterward, she reappeared in Otway’s “Alcibiades," when her merit obtained the thanks of the poet, and drew universal attention. In 1680 the part of Monimia, in the first representation of the “Orphan," drew forth her powers to still higher advantage; and, two years afterward, her Belvidera, in “ Venice Preserved," ob