Графични страници
PDF файл

career of this play, which was handled Massinger has bestowed on their protoby the diurnal critics (one or two ex- types, Beaumelle and Novall. With cepted) with unmitigated severity. Calista we sympathise, although we Sheil had made altogether something can scarcely call her a penitent. She above two thousand pounds by his is sorry when she can no longer help tragedies, but his dramatic ardour was herself, but she may plead some faint now cooled; the stage had lost the apology in the attractive qualities of bright star for whom he delighted to her betrayer, the "baughty, gallant, write, and he turned his time and gay Lothario," who, as Dr. Johnson abilities thenceforward more exclu. says, “ with gaiety which cannot be sively to law and politics.

hated, and bravery which cannot be In 1824, Sheil, at the request of his despised, retains too much of the specfriend Mr. Macready, altered and tator's kindness." The guilt of Beauadapted to the stage Massinger's tra- melle is greater than that of Calista, gedy of The Fatal Dowry, without re- with less shadow of excuse. She is an ference to Rowe's previous transfor- absolute wanton, and sacrifices her mation of The Fair Penitent. The honour to a contemptible wretch, who alterations are judicious, the chief has nothing to recommend him in point being to heighten the character mind or person-deficient even in the of Romont, which has been ably accoin- vulgar attribute of courage. In The plished. With the exception of Ma- Fatal Dowry, Rochfort, the father, cready and Wallack, the actors were excites more interest than Sciolto in unequal to their parts, and the play The Fair Penitent. Gifford says that only commanded seven repetitions at Rowe's Horatio sinks into perfect inDrury-lane. The first performance significance in comparison with Massintook place on the 5th of January, ger’s Romont. Cumberland observes, 1825, but the run was interrupted by that as Rowe had bestowed the fire the sudden and severe illness of Mr. and impetuosity of Romont on his Macready, which suspended bis per- Lothario, it was a very judicious oppoformances for three months. In the sition to contrast it with the cool de. following year The Fatal Dowry was liberate courage of the sententious acted twice in Dublin without attrac- Horatio. As regards the language of tion. * It was a bold imposition of the two plays, the superiority rests Rowe to put forth The Fair Penitent with Rowe. 'He does not soar so high as his own, without the slightest hint as some of the flights of Massinger ; as to whence he had derived the plot, but, on the other hand, he never sinks incidents, and characters ; but in those so low. Massinger has contaminated comparatively dark days there were. some of his best scenes with vulgar few readers and fewer periodicals, and comic expressions. On the score of piracy ran little danger of detection. prurient "descriptions and allusions, Where was The Spectator that he did there is not much to choose between not discover and castigate the fraud ? them. Sheil has expunged all these Cumberland, in The Observer, has with skill and judgment, although the compared the two plays in a long dis- pertinacious admirers of antiquity will cussion, He gives the palm to The contend that he has done so by the Fatal Doury. Gifford does the same sacrifice of original vigour, in the introduction to his edition of

Gifford saysMassinger; but, in matters of critical taste, every one has a right to judge " It is told in the preface to The Bondman, for himself, and opinions will always

1719, that Rowe had revised the whole of continue to be divided. Massinger

Massinger's works, with a view to their has drawn the character of Charalois

publication ; unfortunately, however, he was in a masterly manner, while Rowe has

seduced from his purpose by the merits of

The Fatal Dowry. He conceived the ungeshrunk him up into the insignificant nerous idea of appropriating the whole of its Altamont. But he has invested the

merits, and from that instant appears not heroine and her seducer, Calista and only to have given up all thoughts of MasLothario with infinitely more spirit than singer, but to have avoided all mention of

* Poor Abbott seems to have been a stumbling-block to Sheil. He materially injured The Huguenot in London by being imperfect in an important character, and in Dublin completely broke down in Charalois, from the same cause.

his name. It may appear strange that Rowe heritance of every professed disciple of should flatter himself with the hope of Zoilus and Aristarchus :evading detection. Tbat hope, however, was not so extravagant as it may appear at present. The works of Massinger, few of

"On Saturday (18th February, 1826) which had reached a second edition, lay

the new drama of William Tell was acted scattered in single plays, and might be ap

at our theatre. The production of an admi

rable writer was assisted by the performance propriated without fear." *

an actor of whom it may be justly said,

that he is • Tragicus Spirans.' It is someAs Rowe grew older, his conscience what remarkable that Mr. Sheridan Knowles smote him for his robbery of Massin- (we like his prenomen) should have been ger, or he became more scrupulous in the first dramatic author who has done jushis ideas of literary fair-dealing, or per

tice to two of the grandest incidents in the haps more apprehensive of discovery. chronicle of liberty. Although Alfieri was In the preface to his Lady Jane Grey

of opinion that the story of Virginius afhe says, that Smitht had designed to

forded him the most noble materials, his write a play on the same subject, and

tragedy upon the subject is ponderous and

declamatory. Mr. Knowles's play approaches that Smith's papers had been put into

more nearly to the pathetic majesty of that his hands, but that he could not take

tender and lofty theme. After the producfrom them more than thirty lines at tion of Virginius, its author sought amongst the most. He adds

the mountains of Switzerland new materials

for the exercise of his genius, and found in "I should have made no scruple of taking the market-place of Altorff as moving, and three, four, or even the whole five acts from perhaps as grand an incident, as in the forum him ; but then I hope I should have had the of Rome. Schiller had anticipated Mr. honesty to let the world know they were

Knowles. Madame de Stäel, in her "Gerhis, and not take another man's reputation to many,' bas given large extracts from the myself." I

play of that great dramatist, but they do

not appear to us to be deserving of the The Fatal Dowry, as altered by

praises which she has lavished upon them.

Schiller has made a metaphysician of Wil. Sheil, has not taken permanent pos- liam Tell. His hero of the mountains would session of the stage, and does not ap- make an excellent teacher of scholastic logic pear likely to be again revived. The

in the Alpine monastery of Mount Saint play is too deeply imbued with the be- Bernard, but has little of the rugged spirit setting sin of the old dramatists, inde- which should characterise the immortal peacency and an objectionable plot, which sant by whom his country was delivered, no power of writing or acting can

Mr. Knowles has drawn William Tell with render palatable to a modern audience.

more fidelity and force. He has made use Sheil had none of the petty jealousies

of Florian's novel, and could not have drawn

from a better source. of authorship. When he left off writ

His romance upon li

berty was written by the unfortunate Frenching for the stage himself, he was ever

man in a gaol. He had never interfered in ready with pen or influence to assist

the sanguinary politics of the revolution. others, and hailed the success of Shc

His birth, which happened to be aristocratic, ridan Knowles with loudly expressed was his only crime. After remaining for satisfaction. When William Tell was several months in prison, when death had first acted in Dublin, in 1826, and forgotten to strike him,' in the hope of obmet with great success, although his taining his release, he resolved to compose a own alteration of The Fatal Dowry had panegyric upon freedom. He was weak been coldly received a week before, he

enough to imagine that the Geslers of the wrote the following notice of Knowles's

Directory would be moved to compassion by play, which appeared in a leading pa

an encomium upon liberty, in whose name

50 many atrocities had been committed. per of the Irish metropolis, and de.

The unfortunate nobleman sat down in his serves reproduction as a good sample

dungeon, and by the feeble light that gleamed of amateur criticism, divested of the

through the grated window, painted (for his conventional style and peculiar phrase- works are paintings of nature), the immeasurology which seem to be the natural in- able mountains and the lonely valleys, where

* Introduction to Gifford's edition of Massinger.

† The author of Phædra and Hyppolitus, an unsuccessful tragedy, founded on the Phédre and Bajazet of Racipe.

# Long after Rowe, Aaron Hill perpetrated a second robbery of The Fatal Dowry, which he produced at the Haymarket in 1758, under the title of The Insolvent, or Filial Piety.

freedom and the eagle reside together. Poor Florian! His manuscript was not even opened by the democratic tyrant to whom it was transmitted. Not long after he died of a broken heart. We bave said this much of Florian, because the principal scenes in Mr. Knowles's play are founded upon suggestions in the tale of the French novelist. It is, however, but justice to add, that Mr. Knowles has greatly surpassed his original, and from mere hints in the French work our Irish dramatist has drawn many pathetic effects. This observation is particularly applicable to the second act, in which Tell instructs his boy in archery. It must be confessed that the admirable acting of Mr. Macready greatly contributes to bring the beauty of the scene into high relief. Indeed many of the finest touches belonged exclusively to that originating and creative actor. But putting aside all consideration of the performer's merit, the composition is most admirable in itself, and is entitled, in our mind, to unqualified panegyric. We are disposed, after an attentive perusal of Mr. Knowles's play, and having reflected upon the nature of the materials of which his work is constructed, and the singular skill, as well as genius, with which the passions are gradually and insensibly raised into intensity, to pronounce the author to be a dramatist of the very first order." We make, of course, no reference to Shakspeare, but we do think that there are scenes in Virginius and in William Tell which Otwa and Southern have scarcely surpassed. The tears of a silent and breathless audience outweigh all the cavils of criticism ; and when we see persons of all classes and conditions, the refined and the uneducated, the hoary matron and the rosy-cheeked girl, the haughty lord and the poor mechanic, the man of business and the man of pleasure, the caustic critic and the frivolous coxcomb, all equally under the influence of that assimilating power, which it is the property of genius to exercise over the heart — when, during the representation of a tragedy, we see tears hanging upon the wrinkled eyelids of the old, and upon the long lashes of the young

when we perceive the quick emotions in the dry and rigid, as well as in the soft and vermilion lip — when we see the loquacious hushed into attention, and the grave and taciturn roused into exclamations of sympathy-when we see the habitual vanity, foppery, impertinence, and self-conceit, which are generally observable in the theatre, giving way to deep and unaffected sorrow—we then dismiss the measured dogmas of criti. cism with disregard, and becoming careless about an obscure phrase or a rugged and in

artificial line, we assign the highest place to the writer, who realises the description which Horace has given of a genuine dramatist :« * Ille per extentum funem mihi prope videtur,

Ire poeta, meum qui pectus inaniter angit, Irritat, mulcet; falsis terroribus implet, Ut magus.' “The praise and it is most genuine) which we have given to Mr. Knowles, may justly be extended to the gentleman who has been the means of familiarising the public with his works. It has been said of Mr. Macready, that his features want symmetry and grace, and that he has not the classical expression which many consider necessary for the representation of lofty tragedy. He has what is much better than a classical countenance a mind deeply imbued with the spirit of ancient literature, and has applied his intellectual endowments to his profession. We admit that his face is not made like one of those tragic inasks which the Athenians used to employ in their theatres, and without which John Kemble might have played in the tragedies of Sophocles. The extraordinary physical qualifications of Kemble have led the public to require a countenance like sculpture upon the stage; but it should not be forgotten that some of the greatest performers of ancient or of modern times were deficient in this particular. There hangs in Voltaire's bedroom at Ferney a picture of the famous Le Kain. The face is not unlike that of Curran, whose expression must be acknowledged to have been of an anti-heroic order; yet Le Kain, who was called “Le Convulsionaire,' was one of the greatest masters of the passions that ever lived. We are free to confess that Mr. Macready labours more or less under the imperfection to which we have adverted, and we are not blind to his other faults. His cadences are sometimes too elaborately fine; his transitions of voice have too much purpose in them. He uses the circumflex accent too frequently. He gives his hearer an admonition of the art by which his effects are produced, and forgets that its concealment is the supremacy of skill—'ars est celare artem.' The quotation is trite, but apposite. There is also at times a precipitation in his utterance, which renders him inaudible. He is too deep and guttural, and descends too rapidly from the loftiest pitch of declamation to the dead level of ordinary discourse. The trick is certain to catch applause; but genius ought not to have recourse to tricks. In the headlong fury of passion, Mr. Macready comes too instantaneously to a sudden stop, and looks as if he was struck on a sudden by some cataleptic power. The eagle shot by the magic

* Many of Knowles's subsequent plays were fur superior to William Tell.

† There is a very fine one in the collection of the Garrick Club, presented by the late Charles Kemble.


2 P

ball in Der Freischutz does not come to the ability, but not sufficient skill. He did not ground with a more precipitous fall. These husband his resources, and in the very first are defects which, with all our partiality to scene, in which he appears amidst a tempest a powerful and original actor, we perceivo in the Alps, became hoarse in shouting after as clearly as any critic of the pit. But im- his attendants for relief. It is very true that perfections of this kind vanish before trans- a man in a snow-storip will roar with all his cendent merit, and when we see an auditory might and main; but an actor should recompounded of many elements, alternately collect that it is not bis business to enter inmelted and appalled by such a master of to competition with the stage-thunder; and pathetic as well as of terrible emotions, we that by too great a physical exertion, his care little about the science of his tones, or voice becomes harsh, obscure, and dissonant, the symmetry of his countenance. Ma- and that he thus disqualifies himself for the cready has not got a Roman nose,' exclaims due performance of the residue of his part. the critic, and yet Macready can fill the critic's It is, however, but justice to say, that Mr. eyes with tears. We think it right to ob- Southwell evinced in the tempest no ordinary serve, that in William Tell his countenance, talent. He gave a strong picture of exhowever in other characters it might be more haustion and dismay; his acting throughout felicitously constructed, presents an expres. in a repulsive part was very creditable to sion in perfect conformity with the ideal him; but with a view to the general effect pieture of the mountain hero. Although de- of the play we shall give him an advice, ficient in grace, it is full of manly energy which is not unkindly meant. In those and power. In the scene where Tell meets scenes where Gesler and Tell meet together, his son, and the son and father mutually the latter is so situated that much of his conceal their knowledge of each other, the emotion is necessarily of a subdued and expression of subdued agony, intermingled secret kind. He does not dare to give vent with the fondness of paternal affection, were to his feelings, and speaks in the low tones beyond all praise. The concluding portion of a man whose agony fears its own disof this scene was moving in the highest de- closure. In order to give a full effect to the gree; and when Tell at length discloses that acting of such a part, stillness is required the boy who is doomed to death is his off- there must not be any noise or clatter upon spring, the simple phrase, he is my child,' the stage.f The attention of the audience, went into the core of every heart. We are which should be riveted upon Tell, must not not acquainted with any incident in the be distracted by the boisterous ferocity of whole range of the British drama more af- Gesler, and the person who represents the fecting than that to which we have referred; latter should be as calm as the nature of his and we have no hesitation in saying that character will admit. I Now, it is not nethere is no other actor upon our stage who is cessary that every tyrant should be in · King capable of producing effects more powerful Cambyses' vein.' Cruelty is not of necessity than resulted from the performance of Mr. always turbulent. It seems it is not only Macready in that admirable scene.

calm, but even merry. A judge in one of “Mr. Southwell performed the part of Scott's novels (mind, we are speaking of a Gesler. Mr. Southwell* is a well educated, judge in Scott's novels) cracks jokes on a à very modest, and a very clever man, and man who is undergoing acute torture. Since is greatly superior to actors upon the London mirth is consistent with atrocity, so is repose. boards to whom the parts of villains are A villain can murder with a smile, and the generally assigned. This gentleman went utmost savageness of the heart may be rethrough a difficult character with much conciled with a calm forehead and an unim

* This promising actor, not long afterwards, made a successful debut at Drury-lane, from whence he went to the West Indies, where he died young. He was remarkably handsome. On one occasion, during a Dublin recess, when he was starring in the country, he acted Romeo at Sligo. An enthusiastic critic, in a local paper, said—“That Providence had specially made him for the part, and Shakspeare liad him in his eye when he conceived the character."

† The prevailing faults of careless or defective actors are perpetual motion, interruption, and star-gazing round the front of the house. Often, in our managerial days, have we said to novices, “You must observe three fundamental canons before you can hope to be an actor-Stand still ; don't speak until the person addressing you has finished ; and look him in the face while he is talking to you." The rules appear sinple, but they are very difficult to practice. "My hands puzzle me sadly,” said Bensley, a stiff, formal actor of the ramrod school, who was taking lessons in elocution from Thelwall; “ what am I to do with them ?** “ I can only instruct you there negatively," replied the teacher. “Don't keep them, as you generally do, thrust into your breeches-pockets."

& Acting is animated painting ; no one can expect to excel in the one art who does not feel the other, and understand the principles of light and shade, with the barmony of correct grouping

passioned aspect. Robespierre was an accomplished gentleman, whose manners were as polished as the wedge of steel of his favourite guillotine.* It is not, therefore, at all requisite, in the fictitions delineation of atrocity, to stamp, and foam, and tear a passion into tatters The main business and end of the scene should be paramount in the mind of every actor who bears in it a subordinate part.f We do not mean to say that the performer of Gesler fell into any excess of stormy emotions, which were not warranted by his part. The character itself is not very happily drawn, the whole genius of the writer having been concentrated in his hero, Tell; but it is the business of a judicious actor to correct any mistakes of this nature into which an author may have fallen. The part of Tell's child was admirably played by Master Webster, who gives great promise of future excellence. Mr. Abbott and Mr. Calcraft played subordinate characters, and did everything for them which could be effected. It does these gentlemen great credit, that in a theatre where they have the selection of their parts, they should consent to place themselves occasionally in inferior positions, and thus hold out a useful example to every member of the company. Upon the whole, the play was admirably got up, and was far better acted at our theatre than upon its original representation at Drury-lane.”

William Tell was repeated seven times during the engagement of Mr. Macready above alluded to, and always to crowded houses. Thirty years have rolled on since Sheil penned the criti. cism inserted above, and which we have preserved as a specimen of his style in that line of writing, as an instance of the warmth with which he rendered full justice to superior genius, and as a record of how plays were sometimes acted in Dublin, before what may be now called a departed generation, who flourished sub Consule Planco. Great changes have taken place since then. Young, at eighty, asks for the world in which he was born. Lord Byron says that a tenth

portion of the time suffices for a complete revolution of everything. The rapidity of universal mutation has as. suredly not diminished since he wrote “ Statesmen, chiefs, orators, queens, patriots, kings, And actors--all are gone on the wind's wings."

Sheil, in 1827, when the Dublin theatre opened under a new management, wrote a poetical address for the occasion, which was delivered with happy effect. Some bitter lines were omitted, much to the dissatisfaction of the writer, who printed and dissemi. nated them amongst his friends. They were not considered eligible for public recitation, as bearing with heavy satire on those who vehemently oppose the theatre on what are called religious objections. I

In 1830, Sheil, as we have mentioned in the preceding number of this series, took a very active part, in conjunction with Mr. Macready, in the preparation and production of Maturin's posthumous tragedy of Osmyn the Renegade ; and again, in 1835, in conjunction with many others, exerted himself warmly to promote a benefit for Banim, which took place in the Dublin theatre on the 21st of July, under the immediate patronage of the Marquis of Normanby, at that time Lord Lieutenant, and the warmest patron of all connected with the drama which the Irish metropolis had ever seen.

Our record of Sheil's principal dramatic doings closes here. This is no place to discuss his politics, in which he was undoubtedly sincere, although, as in the case of the unlucky speech on the death of the Duke of York, and the attack on Archbishop Magee, he sometimes suffered himself to be carried away into extremes, which it is idle for personal partiality to attempt to justify, and over which, if possible, his true friends should desire to throw a

* Lord Byron says that the relentless Ali Pacha, of Yanina, was the mildest-mannered man he had ever met with.

† On the French stage, this doctrine is better understood than on ours. It is, nerertheless, well inculcated and practised at the Princess's Theatre, under the management of Mr. C. Kean, who bas lately given a Shakspearian play for one hundred successive nights. Nothing is more difficult in dramatic drilling than to prevent the actors of second and thirdrate parts from marring the general effect by ambitious attempts at undue prominence. They have read the “instructions (in imitation of Swist's jocular advice to servants), in which it is thus laid down—" If your friend, the hero, is dying at one end of the stage, let him die, and . You have a benefit to make as well as be, and must lave an eye upon your patrons in the boxes, and draw a little attention to yourself.”

Ses DUBLIN UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE, No. CCXXXIV., June, 1852, in which the address is inserted.

« ПредишнаНапред »