페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

The Drama.

I

[ocr errors]

A

85

and avevod send to yiroqzorg sviterquos 9dt teit boyong su competition would ceasey and the Lord Chamberlain, by granting licences for distinct classes of entertainment to the various establishments under his jurisdiction, would confirm and sustain the improved organization of theatrical entertainments. And this, or some equivalent system of arrangement, has become the more indispensable as regards the training of the performers, now that the provinces have nearly ceased to supply efficient recruits to the metropolitan stage. In nearly a third of our cities and towns the playhouse is closed it has been converted into a chapel, a corn-market, or a lecture-room. Even where a manager is enterprising enough to risk a season, it is usually brief and precarious. At York, Bath, and Norwich, at one time the acknowledged nurseries of the London stage, and which successively sent up the Kembles, Young, Macready, Liston, Blanchard, Dowton, and a host of lesser luminaries, the dramatic campaign ordinarily extended over at least six months of the year A London of star' was ably seconded by provincial satellites, and the latter found no difficulty in keeping pace! with the performances at Drury Lane and Covent Garden, The oldest and most exclusive of the country families regarded periodical visits to the theatre as much a portion of their social duties as attendance at Quarter Sessions or an Assize ball. To be absent from the regular bespeaks of the High Sheriff or 'the Members was at mark of eccentricity, or a deficiency in respect to those magnates; nor was there lacking any interest in the performance or in the respective merits of the performers. But at the present moment the High Sheriff might as well conjure spirits from the deep as expect that an overflowing audience will come at his callA few of his tenants may gather round their landlord, but his co-mates and acquaintance are deaf as adders to his summons. Provincial acting is indeed nearly de: funct. The City theatres stand in the place of the provincial houses; thither popular performers from the Strand and Hayt market flock vas stars,' and there are absorbed the few country? celebrities which remain. But the City theatres are by no means? equivalents, as schools of acting, for their extinct country pre-d decessors. The standard of ability is of a lower kind; the species of dramas which they represent demand rather strength of lungs than professional knowledge. The regular discipline of a respectable country stage-the discipline that, directed by t Tate Wilkinsom at York, and Brunton at Norwich, drilled so many serviceable recruits, both rank and file, for the inetropolitan boards is seldom practised in establishments where rant and buffoonery suffice, and where most of the pieces represented are versions of the newspaper novel, or of third-rate tales

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

from

[ocr errors]

from third-rate circulating libraries. Scarcely an instance occurs of a City theatre or saloon supplying the stage with even a tolerable addition to its forces.

We have, however, said already that we distrust the alleged superiority of the actors of former days, and of the general decline of acting at the present moment. We believe, on the contrary, that with a better system of co-operation a single English theatre would rival, in the refinement and effectiveness of its corps dramatique, any single Parisian house. We have seen no French comedians in the same line better than our incomparable pair of Keeleys. The St. James's theatre has hitherto imported no performer, with the single exception of Regnier, more variously accomplished or more consummate in skill than Mr. Alfred Wigan; and Mr. Charles Matthews, even in parts more exacting than the usual repertoire of the Lyceum vaudeville, has few equals-we are inclined to add no superior. It is rarely found that actors excel alike in the lighter humours and the more earnest passions. Garrick and Henderson are perhaps almost solitary exceptions of equal and transcendent merit in Hamlet and Benedick, in Macbeth and Megrim, in Richard and Abel Drugger. John Kemble in comedy, in spite of Lamb's eulogy, was recorded in his day among the miseries of human life,' and the elder Kean was absolutely intolerable in the few attempts he made in the service of Thalia. The present stage, however, affords an actor who combines passion with humour in a remarkable degree, and, in the midst of the ludicrous embarrassments of comedy, presents us with fervent tragic pathos. No one can have witnessed the performances of Mr. F. Robson at the Olympic Theatre, without being struck with the narrowness of the bounds between sport and earnest. His farce has a pathetic depth, a grave earnestness, that touch, at one and the same moment, the sources of tears and laughter. He is partly Liston and partly Kean. With less than a cubit added to his stature Mr. Robson would be the first Shakspearian actor of the day. It is unfortunate both for himself and the spectators that his physical qualifications are not in better accordance with his dramatic genius. He lacks presence only to mate Kean in Shylock and Overreach, or Macready in Virginius and Lear.

Mr. Robson, we believe, at one time obtained considerable repute as an actor in burlesques. He has fortunately escaped from the evil effects of that most stupid and barren department of theatrical entertainment. In this censure we do not of course include such admirable samples of Aristophanic fun as Mr. Planché so often produces, or Mr. Tom Taylor's' Diogenes and his Lantern.' These are legitimate sketches of follies as

they

they fly. But the burlesque-which, like an impure flesh-fly, battens upon the imagination of Shakspeare or the pathos of Euripides, which avails itself of the solemn and preternatural machinery of Macbeth, of the Rembrandt-like picture of the Moor, of the aberrations of Hamlet, of the revenge of Shylock, of scenes and thoughts the most hallowed among merely human conceptions, appears to us among the most despicable products of shallow and heartless writers, equally devoid of respect for their own age, or of reverence and gratitude towards their benefactors in past time. Nor are such productions less discreditable to their authors than symptoms of decay in dramatic art itself. To the spectators the burlesque is noxious, since it accustoms them to associate the low and the absurd with the sublime and the earnest; to the actors it is no less injurious, since it tends to impress them with distrust and disrespect for their art: nay, by exhausting it upon false and superficial wit, it dulls the edge of legitimate and natural humour. Nor is the offence at all lessened in our eyes when the parody is at the expense, not of the established reputations of the past time, but of contemporary productions of merit. The prospect that his work may become a butt for ridicule necessarily renders an author timid and diffident of himself. He holds his sword like a dancer under the apprehension that it may soon be struck from his hand by the bat of a clown. Actors, audiences, and managers are alike interested in stifling these parasitical excrescences of the drama, and in commending the fools that use them to some better vent for their pitiful ambition.

In our brief sketch we have endeavoured to survey the general aspects and conditions of the national drama at the present day. That in some respects it has declined we are obliged to admit; certain species of theatrical entertainment are in abeyance, and probably will not speedily be revived. No great school of actors has succeeded to the Kemble family, and with them the higher order of both tragedy and comedy has expired; few modern plays bear the impress of longevity, and will probably be forgotten before another year has passed away. For these causes of inferiority we have, in great measure, to thank the social character of the age itself; literature supersedes the drama on the one hand, and, on the other, we have opened different sources of instruction and amusement. Yet we do not despond: we believe that the remedy lies in a great degree with the managers themselves. We are persuaded that a more careful elaboration of the means which they possess, a politic division of their forces, an abstinence from unfair and expensive competition, a stricter discipline of their companies,

and

[ocr errors]

and a more systematic regard to the ethical qualities of their productions, will do much towards winning back to them the educated and intellectual classes of the community.We would not exclude spectacle, but restrict it to theatres where the space is favourable to gorgeous display We would not banish alf importations of foreign librettos, but we would recommend the adaptation of them to our own social habits and principles. We would borrow from them, not as dependents, but as pupils willing to be instructed. We have happily not arrived at an era of such corruption or degradation as stiffed the theatres of Athens and Rome. With a literature which still commands respect; with a press unshackled, yet for the most part salutarily controlled by public opinion; with much that is imaginative and lofty in the character of the age with an almost incallanguage; we have still a lively and steadfast faith that the nineteenth century will even yet develope, as among its befitting exponents, an intellectual,' m moral, and vigorous national

[ocr errors]

culable diffusion of our masculine and harmonious Ost incal

[ocr errors]

2

Our expectations may appear sanguine to the many who regard the drama as the pastime of an idle hour, and not as a vital branch of the intellectual life of an age. We do not ask such persons to affect a spurious enthusiasm for times which, being more symbolic in their character, were proportionably more≥ dramatic also than the present. We would recommend theatricals pedantry as little as ecclesiastical or artistic. The recreations of the day, as well as its ritual and its arts, must express its con-i temporary feelings, and not borrow the exponents of them from past phases of society. Literature has unquestionably borne off many spolia opia from the theatre; the material development. of the age has given a new direction to its humours and passions, -yet, in spite of these abatements, the dramatic spirit is neither dead nor sleeping among us; it has thrown off many incumbrances rances of stilted diction and spurious sentiment; it has em-I braced new categories of of mirth and earnestness; it has enlisted accessories unknown to our forefathers. In the heart of the chaos! which the modern stage too generally exhibits we possess living germs of a drama that, skilfully trained and organised, may yeti become as expressive of the material and intellectual genius of a the day as the Sophoclean tragedy was of an ethnic commonwealth, or the romantic play of a Christian monarchy. In deve-I loping these materials, authors, managers, and the public have a common interest, and the first step towards so desirable a change 7 is s the recognition, by each in their own sphere, and function, of the duty of re-organising the whole system of theatrical enter-s tainments. you Ictioon lero et huolet od inoroque done que gred

J

ART.

[ocr errors]

.

>

ART. IV. 1. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Edited by W. Smith, LL.D. 3 vols. 8vo, Lon, don. 1844-1851.

[ocr errors]

2. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. By the same, 2nd edit. I vol. 8vo. London. 1851.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

3. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. By the same Vol. I. 8vo, London. 1854. 4. A Smaller Dictionary of Antiquities, Selected and Abridged from the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. 2nd edit. By the same. London..

[ocr errors]

A

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

5. A new Classical Dictionary of Ancient Biography, Mythology, and Geography. By the same. 2nd edit. 1 vol. 8vo. London. 6. A smaller Classical Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography, Mythology and Geography; abridged from the larger work. By the same. 2nd edit. 1 vol. post Svo. London, 1854. 7. Real-Encyclopädie der Classischen Alterthumswissenschaft; herausgegeben von August Pauly. 7 vols. 8vo. Stuttgardt, 1839-1852. tant odt of surge 16995 751ff String 294217510, It T is an old theory, sanctioned by Plato, and since very generally received, that the art of writing and the spread of literature are injurious to the faculty of Memory. Men, it is said, when provided with artificial means of recording events, are no longer at pains to cultivate the talent with which nature' endowed them for that purpose, and which consequently becomes! impaired. Even in the face of such high authority we venture to maintain that this theory is a fallacy; and that literary culture, far from impairing, has been the means of strengthening and extending the powers of the memory, much in the ratio in which it has extended the range of facts and ideas to be remembered. mp hitti 3 9. 1 „eiisid

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

-The chief of only argument that has been urged in favour of Plato's doctrine, is an appeal to the high degree of perfection in which the faculty was possessed by the organs of popular tradition in illiterate states of society, especially by the professional minstrels of the heroic age of Greece. To this it may be replied," that the habit of learning by heart and repeating verses, the only species of memory for which these personages were distinguished, is but a very partial and limited exercise of its powers. But, even admitting that a superiority as to this particular kind" of memory in semi-barbarous ages could form, had it existed, a valid argument on the one side, against those derivable from the'' numerous other modes in which the faculty is called into action in civilised times we shall make bold to deny the fact of any such superiority. The talent for oral recital may perhaps

[ocr errors]
« 이전계속 »