Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

LETTER LXXVIII.

FROM THE SAME.

THE two theatres, which serve to amuse the citizens here, are again opened for the winter. The mimetic troops, different from those of the state, begin their campaign when all the others quit the field; and at a time when the Europeans cease to destroy each other in reality, they are entertained with mock battles upon the stage.

The dancing master once more shakes his quivering feet; the carpenter prepares his paradise of pasteboard; the hero resolves to cover his forehead with brass, and the heroine begins to scour up her copper tail, preparative to future operations; in short, all are in motion, from the theatrical letter-carrier in yellow clothes, to Alexander the Great that stands on a stool.

Both houses have already commenced hostilities. War, open war, and no quarter received or given ! Two singing women, like heralds, have begun the contest; the whole town is divided on this solemn occasion; one has the finest pipe, the other the finest manner; one curtsies to the ground, the other salutes the audience with a smile; one comes on with modesty which asks, the other with boldness which extorts applause; one wears powder, the other has none; one has the longest waist, but the other appears most easy; all, all is important and serious; the town as yet perseveres in its neutrality, a cause of such moment demands the most mature deliberation, they continue to exhibit, and it is very possible this contest may continue to please to the end of the season.

[graphic]

If they produce a pair of diamond buckles at one house, we have a pair of eye-brows that can match them at the other. If we out do them in our attitude, they can overcome us by a shrug; if we can bring more children on the stage, they can bring more guards in red clothes, who strut and shoulder their swords to the astonishment of every spectator.

I

They tell me here, that people frequent the theatre in order to be instructed as well as amused. smile to hear the assertion. If I ever go to one of their play-houses, what with trumpets, hallowing behind the stage, and bawling upon it, I am quite dizzy before the performance is over. If I enter the house with any sentiments in my head, I am sure to have none going away, the whole mind being filled with a dead march, a funeral procession, a cat-call, a jig, or a tempest.

There is perhaps nothing more easy than to write properly for the English theatre; I am amazed that none are apprenticed to the trade. The author, when well acquainted with the value of thunder and lightning, when versed in all the mystery of scene-shifting and trap-doors; when skilled in the proper periods to introduce a wire-walker, or a water-fall; when instructed in every actor's peculiar talent, and capable of adapting his speeches to the supposed excellence; when thus instructed, he knows all that can give a modern audience pleasure. One player shines in an exclamation, another in a groan, a third in a horror, a fourth in a start, a fifth in a smile, a sixth faints, and a seventh fidgets round the stage with peculiar vivacity; that piece therefore will succeed best where each has a proper opportunity of shining; the actor's business is not so much to adapt himself to the poet, as the poet's to adapt himself to the actor.

[graphic]

The great secret, therefore, of tragedy-writing at present, is a perfect acquaintance with theatrical ah's and oh's, a certain number of these interspersed with gods! tortures, racks, and damnation, shall distort every actor almost into convulsions, and draw tears from every spectator; a proper use of these will infallibly fill the whole house with applause. But above all, a whining scene must strike most forcibly. I would advise, from my present knowledge of the audience, the two favourite players of the town to introduce a scene of this sort in every play. Towards the middle of the last act, I would have them enter with wild looks and out-spread arms; there is no necessity for speaking; they are only to groan at each other; they must vary the tones of exclamation and despair through the whole theatrical gamut, wring their figures into every shape of distress, and when their calamities have drawn a proper quantity of tears from the sympathetic spectators, they may go off in dumb solemnity at different doors, clasping their hands, or slapping their pocket holes: this, which may be called a tragic pantomime, will answer every purpose of moving the passions, as well as words could have done, and it must save those expenses which go to reward an author.

[graphic]

LETTER LXXIX.

FROM THE SAME.

I HAVE always regarded the spirit of mercy which

appears in the Chinese laws with admiration. An order for the execution of a criminal is carried from court by slow journeys of six miles a day; but a pardon is sent down with the most rapid dispatch. If five sons of the same father be guilty of the same offence, one of them is forgiven, in order to continue the family and comfort his aged parents in their decline.

Similar to this, there is a spirit of mercy breathes through the laws of England, which some erroneously endeavour to suppress; the laws however seem unwilling to punish the offender, or to furnish the officers of justice with every means of acting with severity. Those who arrest debtors are denied the use of arms, the nightly watch is permitted to repress the disorders of the drunken citizens only with clubs; justice in such a case seems to hide her terrors, and permits some offenders to escape rather than load any with a punishment disproportioned to the crime.

Thus it is to the glory of an Englishman, that he is not only governed by laws, but that these are also tempered by mercy; a country restrained by severe laws, and those too executed with severity (as in Japan) is under the most terrible species of tyranny; a royal tyrant is generally dreadful to the great, but numerous penal laws grind every rank of people, and chiefly those least able to resist oppression, the poor.

[graphic]

were to those of Draco. "It might first happen," says the historian, "that men with peculiar talents "for villainy, attempted to evade the ordinances alrea"dy established; their practices, therefore, soon "brought on a new law levelled against them; but "the same degree of cunning which had taught the "knave to evade the former statutes, taught him to " evade the latter also; he flew to new shifts, while "justice pursued with new ordinances; still, howe"ver, he kept his proper distance, and whenever one "crime was judged penal by the state, he left com"mitting it in order to practise some unforbidden "species of villainy. Thus the criminal against "whom the threatenings were denounced always es"caped free; while the simple rogue alone felt the " rigour of justice. In the mean time penal laws be"came numerous, almost every person in the state "unknowingly at different times offended, and was 66 every moment subject to a malicious prosecution." In fact, penal laws, instead of preventing crimes, are generally enacted after the commission; instead of repressing the growth of ingenious villainy, only multiply deceit, by putting it upon new shifts and expedients of practising with impunity

Such laws, therefore, resemble the guards which are sometimes imposed upon tributary princes, appa rently indeed to secure them from danger, but in reality to confirm their captivity.

Penal laws, it must be allowed, secure property in a state, but they also diminish personal security in the same proportion; there is no positive law, how equitable soever, that may not be sometimes capable of injustice. When a law enacted to make theft punishable with death, happens to be equitably executed, it can at best only guard our possessions; but when by favour or ignorance, justice pronounces a wrong ver

[graphic]
« ПредишнаНапред »