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you, from your whole store of sterling comedy, as you fantastically term it, produce such characters as Farmer Wheatsheaf, or DeameWheatsheaf, or Lord Bluedevil?" I was answered by a second No, more cutting and cruel than the first. The only person who seemed inclined to take part with me, was an old gentleman, a very active member of the Agricultural Society, who, after some hesitation, said, that "For his partnot pretending to much understanding of the matter-he did not see why plough-tails, and turnip-tops, and farm-yard occupations, were not as proper subjects to talk about on the stage as any others ;" (I cast a look of triumph at our opponents;) "that as we already possessed the serious comedy, the sentimental comedy, the genteel comedy, and so forth, it seemed, to his humble way of thinking, rather fastidious to object to the moralagricultural comedy." (In the fulness of gratitude for his support I shook his hand.) "But-again disclaiming all pretensions to a proper understanding of the matter-he, admirer as he was of that class, even he must admit, that bloody towels and rusty daggers were rather out of their place in comedy of any class."-"Call you this backing o' your friends?" -This blow, and a ponderous blow it was, dealt from the hand of my only ally, surprised and staggered me; which my opponents perceiving, they all fell upon me one after another. "Your modern comedy gives us trades," said one; "And occupations," said another; "And pun and county dialects," said a third; "But affords neither character, nor wit, nor wholesome satire, nor common sense," said a fourth. I found that unless I made a desperate rally all would be lost. I contended that
"the drama had its fashions like all other human inventions; that fashions were liable to change; that natural character and easy wit were out; and, for that reason, were no more to be called for in the modern comedy than embroidered coats, fullbottomed wigs, stiff stomachers, and festooned hoops for the actors and actresses. Because it required half a hundred weight of horse-hair to make a wig for Congreve or for Farquhar, would you quarrel with the authors of Virtue's Harvest Home and La Belle Assemblée for wearing a half-ounce brutus, or for wearing no wig at all? Surely you would not. Why then are you less indulgent towards the differences between the insides of men's heads than the outs. You cling to what you call your old school of comedy" (I was growing angry, as I always do, when I hear the modern drama ridiculed or contemned) "as ivy clings to an old brick wall, merely because it is old, and affect to despise the new for no better reason. You move not forward with the improvements of the age; you have allowed the world to outrun you by half a century; you do not keep pace with the march of intellect."-(Intellect, forsooth!' from the opposite benches. I called to order.) Had we lingered on, writing and admiring such pieces as delighted our grandfathers, never should we have wept over the serious-agricultural comedy; never should we have sat motionless and mute, or gasping in suspense and horror at the all-astounding and all-confounding melodrama; never should we have gazed, enraptured and delighted, at the glare and glitter, the taffeta and the tinsel, the waving plumes and all the magnificent gilt and brass-work'* of that climax of perfection in the
"The magnificent gilt and brass-work" exhibited in the Drury Lane Coronation was one of its great attractions, and due honour was conferred on it in the play-bills. Addison says, that we always feel more interested in the perusal of a book when we know something about its author. How much more gracefully then must have waved the plumes, with what excess of brightness must have shone "All the magnificent gilt and brass work," to those who were informed of the important fact, that among the artists, or, properly speaking, the authors of the Coronation, were "Messrs. CARBERRY and Co. for the feathers, and Messrs. JOHNSON and BROOKES, New-street-square, for all the magnificent gilt and brass work." (See the Drury Lane play bills.) If any fault may be found with this elegant advertisement (in all other respects quite worthy of Old Drury's play bills) it is that the mention of the address gives it somewhat the air of a shop-card. How formal and technical would it be to announce "Mr. William Shakspeare, late of Stratford-upon-Avon, for all the magnificent poetry of the Tempest."
modern drama-a Procession!!"– Like Brutus-" I paused for a reply." My adversaries were dumbfounded. After staring at each other for some time in silence and astonishment, they liberally confessed that they did not imagine such an idea as a Procession would ever have entered the heads of any of their worthies; and adding, that having entirely given up attendance at the theatres, and being desirous of knowing in what the merit of such an exhibition consisted, they requested I would, in an early number of The Beauties, give a specimen of this latest improvement in the legitimate drama. This I consented to do; and, so far as the nature of the subject will allow of it, I now proceed to fulfil my promise.
Is the latest and most successful improvement in the modern drama. I do not speak of processions incidental to certain plays, as, for example, the Ovation in Coriolanus, but of processions got up for the mere procession's sake. Of the latter, we have seen no fewer than five within about as many months.Where?-At Astley's?-No. At the Olympic?-No. At the Spring-Garden Rooms, or Bartholomew Fair?No:-two at the Show-box Royal, Drury Lane,-Old Drury,-Garrick's Drury,-Sheridan's Drury-(" Any body's Violante, every body's Violante");-and three at the Showbox Royal, Covent Garden! †
Now as the introduction of Pro
I have heard it unthinkingly asserted that Mr. Kemble, as the introducer of processions and spectacles into some of Shakspeare's plays, ought to be considered as the original corruptor of the public taste. Kemble the corruptor of the public taste! Kemble the elegant scholar and accomplished gentleman! the man of exalted genius and refined taste! He the corruptor of the taste of the public! Why, his very presence on the stage was in itself sufficient to purify the atmosphere of the theatre, rendered unwholesome by the introduction of horses, dogs, monkeys, and rope-dancers. His Cato, his Brutus, his Coriolanus, his Wolsey, his Zanga, his Hotspur,-aye, or his KINGLY Richard-did these corrupt the public taste, or debase it, or help in any way to vulgarise it? The taste of nine-tenths of your "admiring public," could never attain the level to which he would have exalted it. When he introduced procession and spectacle, it was with a view to embellish and illustrate his “beloved Shakspeare," and complete the illusion of the scene; he introduced it, not for the pitiful purpose of dazzling the eye, but to exalt the imagination, and fill the mind with the semblance of truth and reality. Witness the Tempest. Witness Coriolanus. In the latter, the pro
cession, splendid as it was, was merely incidental: of itself it attracted nothing. Kemble, with laurelled front and outspread arms, and altogether that poetical dignity and grandeur of attitude peculiar to himself, pausing for a while beneath the arch of triumph, his eye, his brow, his lip, his entire figure bespeaking the magnificent pride of the antique conqueror, carried the mind back to the "high and palmy state of Rome;" there we were, where Shakspeare intended we should be while his play was going on before us, in the seven-hilled city, with Coriolanus, and Volumnia, and all the great ones of that capital of the world. Here was a field for the imagination to revel in ; but Kemble was the magician who spread it for us. The Ovation has been exhibited since his retirement from the stage, but so poor a procession-maker was he, that it has never succeeded without him. The magnificent gilt and brass-work" is still fresh and glittering, but Coriolanus is gone for ever. Your pure procession-makers understand their work better. The Coronation, or the Public Entry of the Empress Elizabeth, will always draw the "admiring public," spite of the absence, or even the presence, of any particular actor.
Kemble is gone! but fortunately he has left a brother possessing many of his rare qualities. Like him he is a gentleman and a scholar. He is now in the direction of a national theatre; and surely, a fitter person for the post could not easily be found. His very name is a guarantee that he will maintain the honour of at least one of our national stages. He will never turn traitor to the glory of his brother, or his sister, or to his own, by an unworthy use of his power. He also is a Kemble! and there is something in that very sound denoting enmity to trash, and trumpery, and mummery of all kinds.
+ What else but show-boxes are they? What proportion do the regular tragedies, comedies, and farces, acted at both of them during the last and the present seasons, bear to the number of shows and melo-dramas exhibited ? This is a calculation which might be made with some effect by the Lord Chamberlain.
cessions, as a great and important division of our national drama,* forms an epoch in theatrical history, a short notice of the sensation excited by those already produced, cannot fail to be instructive. To this end, however, the most authentic, and least interested information that can be obtained on the subject is indispensable, and I shall offer no apology for occasionally quoting those bulletins, so remarkable for the purity and impartiality of their auto-criticisms, and the valuable specimens of rhetoric they frequently contain-the play-bills.+
The first of the Processions, The Coronation, at the Show-box Royal, Drury Lane, was produced immediately after the Coronation at Westminster Abbey. The King at the Abbey was his most gracious Majesty George the Fourth; and, at the Show-box, Robert the first (of the Elliston dynasty). The success of this fac-simile exceeded even the most enthusiastic expectations of its most enthusiastic planner. The public has admired and delighted in Kemble's Coriolanus, and Mrs. Siddons's Lady Macbeth, and Miss O'Neill's Juliet, and the former Elliston's Aranza; but its admiration of all this was tame, its delight was cold, compared with its extasies of delight and admiration at king Robert's crown and robes. After a few nights' exhibition, thus saith the play-bill, and in large red letters,
like a lottery-puff: "overflowing and delighted audiences nightly recognize and acknowledge The Coronation as the most correct and splendid exhibition ever produced on the British stage." The British stage!! Thirty, fifty, eighty representations are insufficient to satisfy the admiration of this most admiring public, and then we have in letters larger and redder than before: "In consequence of the unprecedented popularity, and unceasing attraction of the Coronation, (which is acknowledged to be the most correct and splendid, &c. &c.) the theatre overflows nightly. It will be repeated on every night of acting." But royalty, whatever advantages it may confer on its possessor, is, in many respects, a burthen. Perhaps no man would accept it with the condition of being obliged all his life to go about with a heavy crown upon his head. In the history of the 19th of July, we find certain allusions to the " fatigues of the day," yet this was but one day of crowning; what mortal could endure crowning a hundred times successively? And so it happened with the king of Drury, that after submitting to the infliction of the ceremony with ineffable patience sundry scores of times-it happened, notwithstanding "THE KING" paraded "in his royal robes, wearing his cap of estate under a canopy of cloth of gold,"-notwithstanding this cloth of gold was "borne by the barons of the cinque
The rapidity with which the Processions have succeeded each other, and the place of their appearance, warrant the belief that they are now received as a standing portion of the national drama. What does Thalia in a niche outside of Covent Garden, having nothing to do within? There she stands, poor melancholy wench! looking complaints to each passer-by, of the hard usage she has received from her unnatural guardians. Why not remove her, and supply her place by a centaur or a punchinello? Either would hold out a fair promise of the sights to be seen within doors. As to poor Drury, that promises nothing-it is truly an unpromising concern. Apollo, who presided over the late theatre, and experienced an ominous fall at its conflagration, has cut the concern altogether.
+ Here is a specimen which has no connexion with the present subject, but I give it as being an admirable one in its way.
"Brutus having now attained the utmost height of popularity, and universal approbation, producing on every evening of performance a vast overflow from all parts of the theatre very shortly after the doors are opened; its representation being nightly accompanied by torrents of the most loud and rapturous applause, and its announcement for repetition constantly hailed by the unanimous cheers and acclamations of the whole house, will be acted every evening till further notice." Where is the police while all this uproar and rioting is going on in a theatre of good fame? It then continues: "Mr. KEAN whose representation of Lucius Junius, in the new tragedy, has been productive of the most powerful effect on the feelings of delighted and admiring audiences, will repea &c." (Drury Lane play-bill, December 9, 1818.)
All here is super-superlative. "Exhausted language can no further go."
ports, and supported by two bishops," -notwithstanding his Majesty's train was supported by the eldest sons of peers, assisted by the master of the robes," notwithstanding the "lords of the king's bed chamber, and the keeper of his majesty's privy purse," notwithstanding even the physician and apothecary," placed there perhaps (somewhat like surgeons at a military flogging) to calculate how much dignity might be inflicted on the king of Drury without danger of unsettling his mental faculties notwithstanding all this regal pomp, this enviable elevation nightly above "upwards of four hundred persons," king Robert was compelled to abdicate. But legitimacy is the order of the day: the manager of Drury is the natural king of Drury; so preferring the public weal to private ease, Robert determined to re-assume his reign, and soon the bills announced the joyful tidings (in letters of a magnitude befitting the importance of the event) that "Mr. Elliston has resumed his character * in the Coronation."Thereupon audiences again became "crowded and overflowing;" once more the public "recognized and acknowledged the correctness and splendour of the exhibition;" again were audiences "delighted;" for the hundredth time they "admired;" then those" acknowledging" and "recognizing," and "delighted," and " admiring" audiences really grew "enthusiastic in their applause;" and, maintaining them in this pleasurable state of excitation,
the Procession continued its "successful and unprecedented career."
About the same time, a Procession appeared at the Show-box Royal, Covent Garden, the plot of which was also a Coronation. The only remarkable difference between this show and the other was, that while the Procession at legitimate Old Drury stood forward as a mere show, at Covent Garden poor Shakspeare was mangled and dragged at the tail of this triumphal car of the modern drama.t
Next in order followed the Coronation of the Empress Elizabeth; and, for this purpose, the public was treated with the revival of The Exile, an admirable medium for a show. But the admiring public had already admired two Coronations; and though great reliance is placed on its capacities for admiration, it could not reasonably be expected that the public would go on admiring Coronations for ever; so, to coax it into admiration of a third, a sort of bonus was offered in the form of the Grand public entry of the Empress Elizabeth, through a triumphal arch !! An Empress going through an arch was irresistible: the Coronation was swallowed, the very Exile itself was digested, and audiences "overflowing the theatre in every part," testified their admiration of this "grand pageant, by the loudest applause and acclamations throughout.
Procession the fourth was entitled, the Grand emblematical Procession of the Seasons, and the Elements, and was marched, at the same show
* Mr. Elliston's announcing that he had "resumed his character" in the Coronation, was inflicting a bitter satire on himself. Is that his character, or his place? to fill up a dumb pageant, to march in a Procession! Where is Aranza? Where Felix, Archer, the Singles, Ranger, Rover? These were the parts, among others, that gave him the character of being the pleasantest, and, in many respects, the best comedian of the time; and he would do better for himself, and for the art, were he to endeavour to RETRIEVE that character by acting those parts more frequently, than by "resuming the character" of a lay-figure, to expose a velvet robe and ostrich feathers upon.
Shakspeare's Henry IV. Part II. was tacked on to this Coronation.
Who would ever suspect the Exile to be the production of the lively author of the Dramatist, and of a score other pleasant pieces that kept the town in a broad laugh for twenty years together? But I suppose we must have vehicles for shows, as we sometimes have vehicles for music. Here lies the difference between the present show-system, and that of Mr. KEMBLE," the original corruptor of the public taste." He made use of pageant and spectacle, chiefly for the purpose of illustration; now, a piece is got up as a mere medium for show and glitter. Let me ask two questions: Who would go to lock at the ovation now that Coriolanus is no more? Who would go to listen to the Exile were the pageant withdrawn ?
box,* in a scene (classical, according to the play-bills) representing the Carnival in the great square of Milan. With Cleopatra's galley, the palace of pleasure, an artificial mountain, Apollo's temple, and other such "appliances and means to boot," it is not surprising that this fourth procession was enthusiastically received," or that overflowing audiences testified their delight and admiration, and extasy and enthusiasm, in all possible ways, not inconsistent with the rules of decency in a public thea
I had nearly forgot to mention, that in the course of this pageant was introduced the play of the Two Gentlemen of Verona.†
The fifth and latest procession which has appeared, was produced at the show-box on the opposite side of the way. The Coronation, with all its glories, could not be expected to march on for ever; and opposed as it was by three processions, given in rapid succession at the rival legitimate-national-patent-Show-box Royal, it began to limp and hobble, and show signs of fatigue. In consequence, another procession was planned, which was intended to outdo all that had ever been done before. Painters, decorators, plumassiers, braziers, silkmen, gold-lacemen, silver-lacemen, and all sorts of contrivers of show and glitter were set to work. Public expectation was excited in a very high degree; and as soon as the Grand Procession of the installed and uninstalled Knights of St. Patrick, with the sovereign of the order was announced for exhibition, the "applications for places were innumerable." The anxiously
expected night at length arrived, and (to use the play-bill style) the public rushed, in overwhelming and resistless torrents, to the doors; in an incredibly short time after their opening, the house was crowded almost to suffocation; and every place from which a sight of the stage could be obtained was occupied in anxious and breathless impatience for the commencement of the march. But spite of all this, spite of the promise of an "Irish jig," in large black letters; spite of the "grand installation," in large red ones; spite of much paint, and varnish, and show, and glitter, this procession was stopt in mid career. The failure of this work (for notwithstanding the play-bill's assurance of the contrary, it did fail) is easily to be accounted for, and on two grounds: first, as compared with a coronation, an installation is an anti-climax, a fault always to be avoided, and more cautiously avoided where the eye alone sits in judgment; and how could it have been expected that the same admiring audiences who had so long_revelled in the contemplation of Mr. Elliston's majesty, surrounded by princes and dukes, the sons of peers for trainbearers, his physician and apothecary close at hand, his champion on real horse-back, his knights in real armour, &c. how could it have been expected that these same persons should look with complacency on drum-majors, a noble lord or two, proxies for dukes, a few bishops, masters in chancery, battle-axe guards, and such inferior officers? Secondly: habit has rendered modern play-goers critical about PROCESSIONS; they begin to form opinions and to pro
Three Processions to poor Drury's one! Emulation and well-directed industry must prosper.
+ That the play of the Two Gentlemen of Verona was revived for the express purpose of producing a pageant, a carnival, or any other sort of show, there can be no doubt. As an acting play, it is notoriously one of the weakest of Shakspeare's; the simple announcement of the revival of the Two Gentlemen of Verona," unmixed with baser matter," would have been but little attractive; and, judging from the present state of theatrical policy, there is no reason to believe that the pure love of Shakspeare, or of his memory, or of the dramatic art, would have induced the revival of an unprofitable play. But the great proof lies in the arrangement of the play-bills (and the "admiring public" has seen enough of this kind of auto-criticism to understand its mysteries); for while "Shakspeare" and his “sonnets," and the "play of our immortal bard," appear in modest and ordinary type, the “Carnival” stands forth in characters of superimportant dimensions.
To this was appended something, entitled, Giovanni in Ireland.