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of his under
is an exercise was looked the best of
language, attaching egotism, and philosophy without pretension, have any charms for mankind. I played,' says Montaigne, the chiefest parts in the Latin tragedies of Buchanan, • Guerente, and Muretus, that were presented in our College
of Guienne, with very great applause; wherein Andreas Go6 veanus, our Principal, as in all other parts of his undertaking, 6 was, without comparison, the best of his employment in • France, and I was looked upon as one of the chief actors. < 'Tis an exercise that I do not disapprove in young people of • condition, and have since seen our Princes, by the example of • the ancients, in person handsomely and commendably perform • these exercises.'
It was in the year 1552 that the first regular tragedy, the Cléopatre of Iodelle made its appearance in France. Having been first acted before the King at the Hotel de Reims, it was afterwards performed by the author and his friends at the College of Boncour. I was there present myself, (says Pasquier,) in 6 company with the great Turnelus. All the actors were men
of name, and Remy de Belleau and Jean de la Peruse played • the principal parts.
Of the merit of the dramatic pieces that succeeded this first attempt-almost all of which, as Suard tells us, were performed 6 sur des théâtres particuliers'--the reader may form some idea from a specimen or two of their plots and dialogue. In the tragedy of · La Force du Sang,' the heroine, Leocadie-not having, as yet, the fear of the unities before her eyes is seduced in the First act of the play, confined in the Fourth, and steps forth, the mother of a fine seven-year-old boy, in the Fifth. In another tragedy, founded on the Loves of Dido and Æneas, by Scuderi, (a wretched pretender, who was by a Court cabal set above Corneille,) the Trojan hero, during his scene with the enamoured Queen in the cave, baving bethought him of the state of the weather, walks forth to see whether it has cleared up, and returns saying,
· Madame, il ne pleut plus-vôtre Majesté sorte.' From the time of Louis XIV. downward, the annals of private theatres afford a still more ample field for discursiveness and research. Amidst the projects of ambition and the plots of bigotry, through all the war of priests, philosophers, economists, and courtiers, down to the very brink of that Revolution towards which all were hurrying, we find the practice of private acting prevalent throughout, and enlisting under its gay banner almost every name that high station, genius, or misfortune, has rendered celebrated.
The private theatre of Madame Maintenon, on a night when
Esther or Athalie was performed, affords, in itself, a gallery of historical portraits, where our attention is equally divided between the audience and the poet-between Louis and his sanctified mistress, on one side, and Racine, prostituting his fine genius to their bigotry and vanity, * on the other. Imagination carries us through the rehearsals of these honourable performances ;-we see the actor, Baron, courteously keeping down his powers to the level of those of his amateur pupils ;-we see Racine himself giving instructions to his Athalie, the fair Madame de Caylas, with whose soavità e l'altre grazie,' we are told by an eye-witness, t be was so captivated. In 1702, a few years after the death of Racine, when this consummate tragedy was acted before the King, the part of Josabat was performed by the Duchesse de Bourgogne, and that of Abner by the accomplished and dissolute Duke of Orleans, afterwards Regent.
In the subsequent reign we find another Duke of Orleans, the grandson of the Regent, and the father of Egalité, distinguisbing bimself by his superior talents as a comic actor.f Besides his various performances at Bagnolet—where, till the sale of this chateau, he maintained a regular theatrical establishment - we trace him acting in the Philosophe Marié' at St Cloud, and afterwards before Mesdames de France, in the now ruined chateau of Bellevue. The piece performed on the latter occasion was · Les Trois Cousines'--the Duke de Chartres, as he was then, acting Delorme, and Madame de Pompadour taking the part of Collette ;—and when this adroit mistress of the monarch, looking earnestly at her royal lover, sung the words,
• Mais pour un amant chéri
La bonne aventure,' &c.
The details of the fêtes given by this dramatic Duke of Or-
* The allusions in the Esther to Madame de Montespan and the
† The Abate Conti, who translated the Athalie into Italian.
says and St Clos of geniuvée, calls
former fellow-actress and mistress, Marquise-all this gossip of the day may be found in Collé, and other writers, and would not a little enliven the Chapter on Royal Green-rooms, in such a History of Private Theatricals as we have suggested. · But, however amusing these Ducal exhibitions may have been, some of the performances that took place, at the same period, in circles less elevated by rank, were far more interesting; and the little theatre of Voltaire at Paris, where he performed the part of Cicero, in his own · Rome Sauvée,' calls up associations in the minds of all lovers of genius, before which the splendour of Bagnolet and St Cloud fades into nothing. When this great man, (says Condorcet,) repeated the beautiful lines, in which Cicero excuses his own love of fame,
"Romains, j'aime la gloire, et ne veux point m'en taire,' &c. the character and the actor seemed one; and the delighted au• ditory almost doubted whether it was Cicero or Voltaire that
stood before them, avowing and pleading for this weakness of
great minds. The tragedian Le Kain-whose splendid talents, by the way, Voltaire first discovered and brought into notice, having by chance seen him acting among a company of amateur tradesmen*- thus speaks of the performance of Cicero by his patron,-. I think it is not possible that any one could be more
true, more pathetic, or more enthusiastic, than M. de Voltaire • in this part.
So strong, indeed, was Voltaire's fancy for private acting, that wherever he went, a theatre seemed always a necessary adjunct to his establishment. His plays at Ferney, and his gay suppers of a hundred covers afterwards, attracted company, we are told, from a distance of twenty leagues round. When at Berlin, he used to indulge his dramatic propensity by performing tragedy with the brothers and sisters of the King; and, during his residence at Paris, a large room above his own apartment was converted into a theatre, in which he made his nieces act with Le Kain.
While the Philosopher of Ferney assumed the buskin with such success, the Citizen of Geneva, it appears, attempted the same accomplishment, and failed; not even Madame d'Epinay could make anything of an actor of him. • Malgré ma bétise 6 et ma gaucherie, (he says, in his Confessions,) Madame d'Epi
* See the whole of this anecdote in Le Kain's interesting account of his acquaintance with Voltaire, given by Condorcet, vol. ii.
nay voulut me mettre des amusements de la Chevrette, château près de Saint-Denis, appartenant à .M. de Bellegarde. «Il y avoit un théâtre où l'on jouoit souvent des pièces. On
me chargea d'un rôle que j'étudiais six mois sans relâche, et .6 qu'il fallut me souffler d'un bout à l'autre, à la représentation. · Apres cette épreuve, on ne me donna plus de rôle.' It was, perhaps, jealousy of the superior talents of Voltaire in this line, that impelled Rousseau to inveigh so violently against the plays of Ferney.
To these few notices of the state of private acting in the reign of Louis XV., may be added the account given by Marmontel of the performances at the house of M. de la Popliniere, the rich financier, at Passy ;-as also the details of the magnificent fêtes given at Pantin, by the Opera-dancer, Mademoiselle Guimard, for whose superb theatre some of the Proverbes Dramatiques of Carmonlet were written. Nor should the historian pass over in silence the Theatre of M. Trudaine, on whose boards ,. Les Accidents, ou les Abbés,' a piece considered by Collé, its author, too licentious to be printed with his other works, was yet thought innocent enough to be acted in the presence of two bishops, -one of them holder of the Feuille des Bénéfices. . There was also, I think,' says Collé, ' a third bishop there, whose name I forget-but of the other two I am certain.'
In the subsequent reign the Court gave the tone in acting, as in all other sorts of amusements. Never was there a more flowery path to ruin than that of the unfortunate Marie Antoinette; nor is it possible to read of the festivities of Marly, and of the Little Trianon, without shuddering to think of the dreadful tragedies that followed. The practice, so prevalent at that period, of throwing ridicule upon all established institutions, (a fate, for which established institutions had to thank their own corruption and folly,) was, with most short-sighted levity, adopted at Court; and one of the favourite amusements of the Queen and her gay companions, was to parody the sittings of the Parliament,* in a sort of mock-heroic pantomime,-one of the Princes playing the part of President, and the beau Dillon, Besenvald, &c., representing ludicrously the other personages. It was on one of these · occasions that the role of Procureur-Général was sustained by · a youth, who little then foresaw the destiny that awaited him ; who, instrumental in the formation of two great Republics, has survived, it is true, the brief glory of the one, but has lived to
receive an immortal reward, in the universal gratitude and homage of the other.
To these pantomimes succeeded ballets, and such jeux de son ciété as La Peur' and • Decampativos ;'- the former, a sort of dumb show, in which the actors put on the appearance of dying and coming to life again, and the latter, a more refined species of Blindman's Buff. To such an exceps did these royal persons carry their love of sport and mountebankism, that the Comte d'Artois-his present Majesty Charles X.-actually took lessons, for some time, in rope-dancing from Placido and the celebrated Little Devil.*
At length, tired both of ballets and Blindman's Buff, these royal play-fellows aspired to regular acting; and to the Queen it was a relief, from the representation of Royalty, to act the soubrettes in the Gageure Imprévue,' and the Devin du • Village.' It was not, however, without a struggle with some parts of her family, that she was allowed to indalge in this fa: vourite pursuit. The brother of the King would not suffer
Madame to act; and the King himself, in order to discourage , what he considered an indecorous proceeding, is said to have hissed the royal débutante the first night. From what has transpired, indeed, of the merits of her Majesty's acting, there is little doubt that the great majority of the audience must have been de l'avis de l'aspic, as well as the King. But royalty,
quicquid agit, quoquo vestigia vertit,' is sure of applause, and the only honest opinion hazarded at the time, is that which Madame Čampan, as well as Montjoie, has recorded; Il faut • avouer que c'est royalement mal joué.
Of the history of the German Drama we profess to knoty little; but, from the time of Reuchlin, the earliest writer and actor of plays in the academies of Germany, down to Schiller, whose sole experiment in the way of acting seems to have been still more unfortunate than that of Rousseau ;t we have no
* M. le Comte d'Artois, qui par sa taille, sa jeunesse, et ses graces "naturelles, est fait pour réussir dans tous les exercices du corps, a i ambitionné aussi la gloire de danser sur la corde. Na pris long* tems en silence, et dans le plus grand secret, des leçons da Sieur * Placide et du Petit Diable.'- Mémoires Sécrets pour servir, &c. Tom. 15, p. 182.
+ Schiller acted, while at the university, in a piece played before the Duke of Wirtemberg. · Il choisit le Drame de Clarige, de Goethe,
et s'y reserva le principal rôle. Ce ne fut point pour lui une oc*casion de succès; il se montra fort gauche et fort empêché,' - Pie dke Schiller.