« PreviousContinue »
Ladies obtained only three repetitions. it. This opera is overloaded with acAgain, in 1821, Kenney was in the tion. The plot is too slight for the field at the Haymarket, with Match crowd of incidents, which are so hud. Breaking, or the Prince's Present, a dled on each other, that they work up drama in three acts. This time he to a maze of inextricable confusion. was more fortunate than in his last Intrigue is the essence of Spanish coessays at Drury-lane, for the new co medy, and Kenney has here “ laid it medy proved to be higbly attractive, on with a trowel." The entire dramatis and was often repeated throughout the persona, masters and servants, old and season. At the same theatre, in the young, high and low, seem to have no following year, he was equally success. other object in existence. ful with John Buzzby, or a Day's Kotzebue's Count Benyowsky, or the Pleasure. The Haymarket seemed Eriles of Kamschatka, has twice been how to become his favorite quarter attempted on the English stage. First, deck. On these congenial boards, on at Covent Garden, in 1811, translated the 7th of July, 1823, he launched by Charles Kemble; and again in one of the most popular dramas ever March, 1826, at Drury-lane, as an produced the operatic comedy of operatic play, by Kenney. There was Sweethearts and Wives, which ran for better acting in Kemble's drama than fifty-one nights, and is still acted at in Kenney's, but neither was sufficientmany of the London theatres, and ly successful to be called for after the throughout the kingdom, as often as first season. It is difficult to underany play that has been written within stand why English managers or authe last century. The first actors of thors should have selected the subject, the principal characters were Madame which has nothing in it either attracVestris, Miss Chester, Miss Lovë, tive or agreeable ; while it is well Terry, F. Vining, and Liston. Lis. spiced with the usual seasoning of Gerton's Billy Lackaday exhibited tbat man immorality. Kotzebue's vaunted unique buffo in all his glory. Others hero is only interesting in poetical ficmay have as much humour, but when tion. In reality he was little more shall we ever again see such an index than a common-place adventurer. A as his face? He was a consummate Hungarian, not a Pole, as the German artist, too, who settled all his effects writer represents him; and originally beforehand, and never varied them, an officer of subordinate rank in the although the majority of unsophisti. Austrian army. From thence he cated spectators might easily suppose transferred his sword to the ranks of that he acted carelessly from the im. Poland, contrived to get bimself en. pulse of the moment. This very ap. rolled amongst the nobility of the parent ease is only attained by pre land, fought against Russia in the arranged and laborious study. Herein struggle for Polish independence, but lie the mystery and mastery of genius happened to be taken prisoner, and
the true ars celare arter, that high was exiled to Kamschatka. Con. perfection of practical science, which triving to escape from that remote pe. reaches the end while it conceals the nal colony, he next turned to France, means.
and after many vicissitudes of fortune The Alcaid, or Secrets of Office, & was sent by the authorities of the coun. comic opera, in three acts, appeared try on an undefined expedition to Maat the Haymarket, on the 10th August, dagascar. In course of time he re1824. Here again there was great volted from his allegiance to France, talent employed, the cast including attempted to assume the sovereignty of Miss Paton, Madame Vestris, Mrs. the island, and was slain in action Glover, Mrs. Gibbs, W. Farren, Lis. against the French troops, in 1786. ton, and Harley ; but the result was In Kotzebue's play, and in C. Kem. very different from that of Sweethearts ble's adaptation, Benyowsky is a mar. and Wives. With the close of the sea ried man. Athanasia, the daughter son, the Alcaid laid down his office, of the governor of Kamschatka, falls and has not since resumed it. Neither in love with him, reveals her passion, did he impart to us any secrets beyond and obtains her father's consent to two of very common occurrence - their union. Benyowsky, driven into namely, that a placeman likes to keep a corner, is compelled to name the his post, and that officious underlings obstacle. Athanasia then declares that are ever striving to thrust him out of she will continue her affection, but that it shall merge into the sisterly or Spring and Autumn, one of our auplatonic form. Benyowsky, having first thor's most fortunate pieces, was first made a prisoner of the governor, ef acted at the Haymarket, on the 6th fects his escape, with his brethren in of September, 1827. During the reconspiracy and captivity, and the in mainder of that season it had an unin. fatuated fair one determines to accom- terrupted run of thirty nights, which pany him; but he contrives to leave was only stopped by the close of the ber fainting in her father's arms, to theatre. The attraction continued die of a broken heart, or subside into for several succeeding years. a new attachment, as time may deter On the 29th of October, 1827, Poole mine. In Kenney's version the catas produced a comedy in three acts, on trophe is greatly improved, and he has the same subject, called The Wealthy considerably mended the moral tone Widow, but it appeared to disadvantage of the affair, by inaking the hero a after the recent and superior success bachelor instead of a Benedict. His of Kenney's. Poole says, in his preplay was acted eleven times. The face, that Kenney and himself had acGermans, if we may judge by their cidentally adapted the same French dramatists, who are supposed to be the piece to the English stage, and that legitimate reflecters of social habits, his was written first, but as his bromust have very peculiar notions of ther author and competitor had foredomestic economy. In the Stranger, stalled him in the representation, he according to the arrangement of Kot- had introduced new characters, and zebue, Count Waldbourg takes back almost entirely re-written his dialogue. his “runaway wife," upon contrition, Poole's comedy died in infancy,t while and a promise of better conduct in fu. his rival's flourished to longevity. ture. "In Göethe's Stella, the hero of With the opening of the Drury-lane the piece deserts one wife to marry season, in October, 1827, Kenney another, and in due course flies from produced one of his most successful the second. Both ladies follow in pur. farces, The Nlustrious Stranger, or suit, meet accidentally at an inn, are Married and Buried, written expressly drawn by some secret sympathy to each for the talent of Liston. The author other, swear an eternal friendship, had every reason to be satisfied with finally recover the truant, and agree his chosen protagonist, whose humour most amicably to share him between had seldom been displayed to more them.* As in these days of universal advantage. But though Liston is dead, instruction, everybody lectures upon the Illustrious Stranger has found something, why does not some modern many succeeding representatives. It transcendentalist of the Kantian school was said in the bills that this operatic deliver a series of discourses, to show farce was taken from a popular French the philosophy upon which these drama, I though the foundation of both strange phases of national idiosyncra may be traced to one of Sinbad's voycy may be explained, justified, or re- ages, which had already supplied three conciled ?
dramatic pieces, namely, Bickerstaff's In July, 1826, Kenney wrote a farce Burying, by Mrs. Centlivre, acted at for the Haymarket, entitled Thirteen Drury-lane, March 27th, 1710; Galto the Dozen, in which Liston and lic Gratitude, by Dr. James Solas John Reeve acted together. It was Dodd (an Irishman), brought out at eminently successful, and although Covent Garden, April the 30th, 1779; produced so late in the season, ran for and Love in a Blaze, by Captain Attwenty-three nights. His next effort, kinson, produced at Crow-street, DubThe Green Room, a comedy in two lin, in 1800. About two months beacts, brought out at Covent Garden fore Kenney's farce appeared at Druin the October of the same year, ry-lane, it had been anticipated at the although of superior pretensions, was Haymarket by a comic extravaganza, much more coldly received.
in one act, on the same subject, called
* See the “ Rovers " in the Anti-Jacobin, for an admirable parody on this, and much similarly indecent and outrageous absurdity.
† A revived version is now playing by Mr. C. Mathews, at Drury-lane.
* A French farce, by Lafont, Le Naufrage, with a similar plot, was published as far back as 1710.
You must be Buried, in which the Benjamin Bowbell, or Barnaby Boxem, as he was denominated, was personated by John Reeve. But this version does not appear to have been printed, and died quietly, making no sign.
Within six months after the birth of the Illustrious Stranger the indefati. gable Kenney supplied Drury - lane with a full five-act comedy, under the title of Forget and Forgive, or a Rencontre in Paris. This sample was found to be heavy and ineffective, and being withdrawn, after four repetitions, to undergo the salutary discipline of the pruning - knife, came out again in March, 1828, reduced to three acts, and re-christened Frolics in France. But there was no inherent vitality, and the attempt at resuscita. tion proved abortive.
During the following season, Young was regularly engaged at Drury-lane. His great success and attraction in Miss Mitford's tragedy of Rienzi, made it desirable to follow up the hit with other original characters. Walker's Caswallon, produced on the 12th of January, 1829, was comparatively a failure. On the 21st of February following, Kenney enlisted Young into the hero of his musical play, called Peter the Great, or the Battle of Pultowa.* The title marks the epoch when the action of the dra. ma is supposed to take place. The subject was, as the Yankees say, de. cidedly “ used up ;" for the reforming Czar had often figured in scenic representations before, although until now he had never been brought on the boards in actual contact with his great rival, the portbern Alexander. The time, too, was unhappily chosen, for Planchè's Charles the Twelfth, one of the most complete and popular of mo. dern dramas, and admirably acted in every part, had been produced only a few weeks before, and the run was not yet exhausted. Peter the Great only commanded six repeti. tions, and does not appear to have been printed.t But for this compa rative failure Kenney made ample
amends on the 4th of May follow. ing, by an adaptation of Auber's celebrated opera, La Muette De Por. tici, which was then exciting an un. usual commotion amongst the musical and theatrical world of the French metropolis. Masaniello, as the English version is called, still retains powerful attraction, and is a standing dish in almost every important theatre throughout the kingdom. The sudden rise, and as sudden fall of the fisherman of Naples, had been often dramatised be. fore, but neither the last French nor English selectors of the subject (Scribe and Kenney) appear to have drawn from any of the previous versions. Fe nella, the dumb sister of Masaniello, in whom the interest centres, is entirely a fiction, and a very pleasing one, invented by Scribe for the libretto of Auber's opera, and retained with full prominence in Kenney's adaptation. As far back as 1649, a play was printed, but never acted, entitled, The Rebellion of Naples, or the Tra. gedy of Masaniello. It was said to have been written by a gentleman (T. B.), who was himself an eye-witness of the facts he has dramatised, as they happened at Naples, in 1647. But as he professed to write a true account of the story, he ought not to have introduced unnecessary impossibilities--such as giving the hero a marriageable daughter, for which Mass.niello was much too young.
In 1699-1700, D'Urfey printed The Rise and Fall of Masaniello in two parts; but it does not appear that he borrowed anything from T. B., neither have we positive evidence to show that the double drama was acted, beyond the circumstance that Penkethman's name is affixed to the prologue to the first part; and Mrs. Rogers, in the epilogue, intimates that she had performed the Duchess of Mataloni. Miss Campion, in the epilogue to the second part, speaks of herself as hav. ing represented Fellicia. D'Urfey's two plays combine a monstrous jumble of history and invention, with a disgust. ing superfluity of murder upon murder most elaborately transacted. He winds up thus:-“ The scene opens, and dis. covers the trunk of Masaniello, head. less and handless, dragged by horses, his head and hands fastened to a pole, with an inscription; and behind these the bodies of Blowzabella and Pedro (his wife and brother) hanging upon gibbets." Do the admirers of the old dramatists include honest Tom D'Ur. fey amongst the objects of their idola. try? He was a jolly companion, nevertheless, and was much sought after by the best company, for his conversa tional and vocal abilities. Nay, even crowned heads condescended to admit him to their presence, and to gather amusement from his humour. Charles the Second was more than once observed leaning familiarly on his shoul. der, and humming over songs with him. That saturnine gentleman, King William III., was seen to laugh hearti y at one of his effusions, and what was still more extraordinary, ordered him a present; and the more convivial Queen Anne gave him fifty guineas for sing. ing a lampoon to her, written expressly to ridicule a most worthy and respectable old lady, the Princess Sophia, Electress Dowager of Hanover. A very entertaining account of D'Urfey will be found in No. 67 of the Guar. dian. He was not an Irishman, as has been sometimes supposed, but descended from an ancient Huguenot family of France, who fled from Ro. chelle, before it was besieged by Louis the Thirteenth, and took refuge in England.
* The late Mr. Morton was concerned in the authorship of this play.
† Another Battle of Pultowa, an adaptation from the French, in two acts, was acted at Covent Garden, on the 23rd of February, 1829, two days after the production of Kenney's at Drury-lane, and obtained a run of fourteen nights. In this, C. Kemble and Warde personated the King and the Czar, in opposition to Cooper and Young, at Drury-lane.
Tom Walker (as he was familiarly called), the original Macheath, an actor of rare versatility, who excelled in sach opposite parts as Bajazet and Falconbridge - in 1724, altered and compressed D'Urfey's two parts of Masaniello into one, and brought it out at Lincoln's-inn-Fields with a tole. rable show of success, himself enacting the hero. On this occasion his brother comedian, John Leigh, commemorated him in a song of eight stanzas, in which it is said
the play was only acted once, and added no credit either to the actor or author. The latter has departed from fact to introduce a love episode, especially objectionable. The Escaminer said, in a critical notice_" This historical play is little more than a melodrama, attended with a fault, which, from the nature of the story, is very extraordinary—that is to say, a surprising want of action. We have also to deplore a mawkish tissue of feminine interest. Why lower the ruling passion of a man in the situation of Masaniello, by a silly and improbable amour with a woman of quality, and the undesigned assassination of a too tender and prying wife?" About the time that Soane's drama appeared at Drury-lane, another, on the same subject, was exhibited at the Cobourg, written by Milner; and printed without a date ; but this, too, has passed into oblivion. It was reserved for the combined talents of Scribe, Auber, and Kenney, to give Masaniello a lasting position on the stage. In a preface to a subsequent production, Kenney states that he received not a single shilling in remuneration for a play which, during a hundred representations, had filled the treasury of the theatre.
In 1831, he was invited, by the then management of Drury-lane, to furnish an adaptation of Victor Hugo's Hernani, which had been strongly pressed upon them as a highly effective play. He produced, in consequence, The Pledge, or Castilian Honour ; but the result disappointed all parties. Either the dramatic strength of Victor Hugo has been over-rated by his admirers, or is not transfusible into a foreign language. Other experiments have been tried from the same source, but none have met with more than very modified success. Kenney's version of Hernani is ably executed. The play pleased, but did not attract, although well acted, and lauded in the papers. The author, in an indignant preface, complains that the parsimony of the managers (Captain Polhill and Alexander Lee), together with much unnecessary delay, and some underhand, hostile agency, destroyed every chance that might have operated in his favour. The extract is amusing and instructive. He says:
"Tom Walker, his creditors meaning to chouse,
Like an honest, good-natured young fellow, Resolv'd all the summer to stay in the house,
Aad rehearse by himself Masaniello."
From the days of Tom Walker, Masaniello slept for nearly a century, until the 17th of February, 1825, when Soane, thinking the fisherman suited to the peculiar powers of Edmund Kean, selected him for that purpose. But
"Any reader who may happen to proceed to my fifth act, either through the four first,
his majesty in the earlier scenes éven a decent dishabille.
“ The term of my perplexities, however, had now arrived, and a critical trial of my patience it proved. Excited prejudice staring me in the front, and impatient zeal for a worthier post trampling hard upon me in the rear, with the laurel prepared for him, and the condemned nightcap for me, I was at length jostled into the presence of my judges, whose verdict soon added another to the many proofs I had received of their unfailing justice and generosity. This verdict was confirmed universally by the press; and even such journals as had been betrayed, I know not how, into sneers at my importunity and presumption in forcing the play upon the theatre, made me in their reports more than amends for their error, of which this statement will, I trust, altogether convince them. I am also bound to thank all the actors for their loyal and brilliant exertions on the day of trial, which banished from my mind every feeling but that of charity for the past, and better hopes for the future."
or by a shorter cut, will there find the description of a scene, some of the exuberant magnificence of which may certainly, with out much injury to the action, be retrenched. But he will observe that it is a night-scene
that night is its essential feature that it indicates moonlight—that it is the dispersing of a masquerade - that the dialogue, at almost every line, alludes to its being night, to the rising moon, to a serenade, happy dreams, falling dews, &c. What, then, will be his surprise--and if he be a dramatist, his horror- to hear that only at four o'clock on the day previous to our first representation, I discovered, by accident, that the scene which was to stand for this was a commonplace villa, producing an effect of noonday sunshine. Everybody else having left the theatre, I remonstrated with the carpenter, who told me that it was to no purpose ; that the scenes which had been originally pre pared for me had been otherwise applied; that they had made the best shift they could; and that their old stock could positively supply nothing nearer to my intentions. By means, however, of the exertions of Mr. Wallack, and Mr. Wilmot, the prompter, this extraordinary negligence was repaired, and a satisfactory scene substituted.
“In the fifth act will also be found allusions, numerous, emphatic, and important, to a black domino; of that act, this black domino is the theme and argument. Black it must be- black as Erebus.' Mr. Macready required my presence in the wardrobe for my opinion as to some parts of his dress. I attended him, and the points in question being settled, my eye fell upon an isolated domino. It was blue: it does not, therefore, thought I, concern me. An afterthought, however, occurred, on recollection of the sunshine scene. It was as well to inquire, I did so. It was for Mr. Macready in the fifth act. "For Mr. Macready !' said l. “There is some mistake in your orders ; that is to be a black domino.' It is no mistake, said Mr. Palmer, the keeper of the ward. robe, but there is no such thing in the stock.' What then ?' I rejoined, as it is absolutely indispensable; and were it not so, as it is too late to alter my dialogue, could you not hire one ?' 'We have strict orders,' added Mr. Palmer, 'to go to no expense for this play.' "Then,' said I, I will spare your half-crown, and send in one from the first masquerade warehouse. Mr. Palmer concluded by saying, that rather than I should be so treated, he would take that responsibility upon himself. He did so, and at the hazard, it appears, of the manager's displeasure, the black domino was at length provided.
«The risk Mr. Palmer took upon himself in the case of the domino, is not the only favour I owe to that gentleman, he having supplied, from his own private property, the armour worn by my staunch friend Cooper, as the King, who in pain tried to obtain for
In this instance, Kenney had good cause for complaint, as authors often bave, yea, and managers too, when they are led into the payment of large sums in advance, upon expectations as unsubstantial as the vi. sions conjured up by the magic wand of Prospero. Authors, actors, and managers, incessantly and alternately find fault with and condemn each other. The three estates contrive to produce discords, and live in a perpetual state of antagonism. This form of government is not peculiarly characteristic of the dramatic microcosm, but is equally typical of the larger world, of which the theatre presents a faith. fully reflected miniature.
During Madam Vestris's management of the Olympic, Kenney sup. plied her with three very lively, light pieces, Fighting by Proxy, Dancing for Life, and Not a Word. He also assisted Bunn in A Good Looking Fellow, for Drury-lane, and wrote for the same theatre, The King's Seal, in conjunction with Mrs. Gore; and one of the many versions of Dominique the Possessed. A musical drama, called Hush ! (a bad name, taken from a worse French one, Chut !) completely failed. Finding it so much inferior to what he expected, Kenney himself hissed loudly from the dress circle, where he had taken his post, and declared that he did not think he could have done anything so wretchedly bad. It is not often that an author is so disinterested.