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stranger, and which rather denotes an inclination to
greet him, than any positive motion of the body to
that effect a species of humility and will-worship
which I observe, nine times out of ten, rather puzzles
than pleases the person it is offered to when the
face turning full upon me strangely identified itself
with that of Dodd. Upon close inspection I was not
mistaken. But could this sad thoughtful countenance
be the same vacant face of folly which I had hailed
so often under circumstances of gaiety ; which I had
never seen without a smile, or recognised but as the
usher of mirth ; that looked out so formally flat in
Foppington, so frothily pert in Tattle, so impotently
busy in Backbite ; so blankly divested of all meaning,
or resolutely expressive of none, in Acres, in Fribble,
and a thousand agreeable impertinences? Was this
the face full of thought and carefulness that had
so often divested itself at will of every trace of either
to give me diversion, to clear my cloudy face for two
or three hours at least of its furrows ? Was this the
face manly, sober, intelligent, which I had so


often despised, made mocks at, made merry with?
The remembrance of the freedoms which I had taken
with it came upon me with a reproach of insult. I
could have asked it pardon. I thought it looked
upon me with a sense of injury. There is something
strange as well as sad in seeing actors your pleasant
fellows particularly subjected to and suffering the
common lot their fortunes, their casualties, their
deaths, seem to belong to the scene, their actions to
be amenable to poetic justice only. We can hardly
connect them with more awful responsibilities. The
death of this fine actor took place shortly after this
meeting. He had quitted the stage some months;
and, as I learned afterwards, had been in the habit of
resorting daily to these gardens almost to the day of
his decease. In these serious walks probably he was
divesting himself of many scenic and some real vani-
ties weaning himself from the frivolities of the
lesser and the greater theatre doing gentle penance
for a life of no very reprehensible fooleries, taking
off by degrees the buffoon mask which he might feel
he had worn too long and rehearsing for a more
solemn cast of part. Dying he " put on the weeds of

* Dodd was a man of reading, and left at his death a choice
collection of old English literature. I should judge him to
have been a man of wit. I know one instance of an impromptu
which no length of study could have bettered. My merry friend,


If few can remember Dodd, many yet living will
not easily forget the pleasant creature, who in those
days enacted the part of the Clown to Dodd's Sir
Andrew. Richard, or rather Dicky Suett for so
in his life- time he delighted to be called, and time
hath ratified the appellation lieth buried on the north
side of the cemetery of Holy Paul, to whose service
his nonage and tender years were dedicated. There
are who do yet remember him at that period his
pipe clear and harmonious. He would often speak
of his chorister days, when he was " cherub Dicky."

What clipped his wings, or made it expedient that
he should exchange the holy for the profane state;
whether he had lost his good voice (his best recom-
mendation to that office), like Sir John, "with hal-
looing and singing of anthems ; " or whether he was
adjudged to lack something, even in those early years,
of the gravity indispensable to an occupation which
professeth to " commerce with the skies " I could
never rightly learn ; but we find him, after the pro-
bation of a twelvemonth or so, reverting to a secular
condition, and become one of us.

Jem White, had seen him one evening in Aguecheek, and rec-
ognising Dodd the next day in Fleet Street, was irresistibly
impelled to take off his hat and salute him as the identical
Knight of the preceding evening with a " Save you, Sir An-
drew" Dodd, not at all disconcerted at this unusual address
from a stranger, with a courteous half-rebuking wave of the
hand, put him off with an " Away, Fool"


I think he was not altogether of that timber, out of
which cathedral seats and sounding boards are hewed.
But if a glad heart kind and therefore glad be
any part of sanctity, then might the robe of Motley,
with which he invested himself with so much humility
after his deprivation, and which he wore so long with
so much blameless satisfaction to himself and to the
public, be accepted for a surplice his white stole,
and aide.

The first fruits of his secularization was an en-
gagement upon the boards of Old Drury, at which
theatre he commenced, as I have been told, with
adopting the manner of Parsons in old men's charac-
ters. At the period in which most of us knew him,
he was no more an imitator than he was in any true
sense himself imitable.

He was the Robin Good-Fellow of the stage. He
came in to trouble all things with a welcome per-
plexity, himself no whit troubled for the matter. He
was known, like Puck, by his note Ha ! Ha ! Ha !
sometimes deepening to Ho ! Ho ! Ho ! with an
irresistible accession, derived perhaps remotely from
his ecclesiastical education, foreign to his prototype
of, O La ! Thousands of hearts yet respond to
the chuckling O La ! of Dicky Suett, brought back to
their remembrance by the faithful transcript of his
friend Mathews's mimicry. The " force of nature
could no further go." He drolled upon the stock of
these two syllables richer than the cuckoo.


Care, that troubles all the world, was forgotten in
his composition. Had he had but two grains (nay,
half a grain) of it, he could never have supported
himself upon those two spider's strings, which served
him (in the latter part of his unmixed existence) as
legs. A doubt or a scruple must have made him
totter, a sigh have puffed him down ; the weight of a
frown had staggered him, a wrinkle made him lose
his balance. But on he went, scrambling upon those
airy stilts of his, with Robin Good- Fellow, " thorough
brake, thorough briar," reckless of a scratched face or
a torn doublet.

Shakspeare foresaw him, when he framed his fools
and jesters. They have all the true Suett stamp, a
loose and shambling gait, a slippery tongue, this last
the ready midwife to a without-pain-delivered jest;
in words, light as air, venting truths deep as the cen-
tre ; with idlest rhymes tagging conceit when busiest,
singing with Lear in the tempest, or Sir Toby at the

Jack Bannister and he had the fortune to be more
of personal favourites with the town than any actors
before or after. The difference, I take it, was this :
Jack was more beloved for his sweet, good-natured,
moral pretensions. Dicky was more liked for his
sweet, good-natured, no pretensions at all. Your
whole conscience stirred with Bannister's performance
of Walter in the Children in the Wood but Dicky


seemed like a thing, as Shakspeare says of Love,
too young to know what conscience is. He put us
into Vesta's days. Evil fled before him not as
from Jack, as from an antagonist, but because it
could not touch him, any more than a cannon-ball a
fly. He was delivered from the burthen of that
death ; and, when Death came himself, not in meta-
phor, to fetch Dicky, it is recorded of* him by
Robert Palmer, who kindly watched his exit, that he
received the last stroke, neither varying his accustomed
tranquillity, nor tune, with the simple exclamation,
worthy to have been recorded in his epitaph O La !
O La ! Bobby !

The elder Palmer (of stage-treading celebrity)
commonly played Sir Toby in those days ; but there
is a solidity of wit in the jests of that half-Falstaff
which he did not quite fill out. He was as much too
showy as Moody (who sometimes took the part) was
dry and sottish. In sock or buskin there was an air
of swaggering gentility about Jack Palmer. He was a
gentleman with a slight infusion of the footman. His
brother Bob (of recenter memory) who was his shadow
in every thing while he lived, and dwindled into less
than a shadow afterwards was a gentleman with a little
stronger infusion of the latter ingredient; that was all.
It is amazing how a little of the more or less makes a
difference in these things. When you saw Bobby in
the Duke's Servant*, you said, what a pity such a
* High Life Below Stairs.


pretty fellow was only a servant. When you saw Jack
figuring in Captain Absolute, you thought you could
trace his promotion to some lady of quality who
fancied the handsome fellow in his top-knot, and had
bought him a commission. Therefore Jack in Dick
Amlet was insuperable.

Jack had two voices, both plausible, hypocritical,
and insinuating; but his secondary or supplemental
voice still more decisively histrionic than his common
one. It was reserved for the spectator; and the
dramatis personse were supposed to know nothing at
all about it. The lies of young Wilding, and the
sentiments in Joseph Surface, were thus marked out
in a sort of italics to the audience. This secret cor-
respondence with the company before the curtain
(which is the bane and death of tragedy) has an ex-
tremely happy effect in some kinds of comedy, in the
more highly artificial comedy of Congreve or of
Sheridan especially, where the absolute sense of
reality (so indispensable to scenes of interest) is not
required, or would rather interfere to diminish your
pleasure. The fact is, you do not believe in such
characters as Surface the villain of artificial comedy
even while you read or see them. If you did, they
would shock and not divert you. When Ben, in
Love for Love, returns from sea, the following ex-
quisite dialogue occurs at his first meeting with his


Sir Sampson. Thou hast been many a weary league,
Ben, since I saw thee.

Ben. Ey, ey, been ! Been far enough, an that be all.
Well, father, and how do all at home ? how does
brother Dick, and brother Val ?

Sir Sampson. Dick ! body o' me, Dick has been dead
these two years. I writ you word when you were at

Ben. Mess, that 's true ; Marry, I had forgot. Dick's
dead as you say Well, and how ? I have a many
questions to ask you

Here is an instance of insensibility which in real
life would be revolting, or rather in real life could
not have co-existed with the warm-hearted tempera-
ment of the character. But when you read it in the
spirit with which such playful selections and specious
combinations rather than strict metaphrases of nature
should be taken, or when you saw Bannister play it,
it neither did, nor does wound the moral sense at
all. For what is Ben the pleasant sailor which
Bannister gives us but a piece of satire a crea-
tion of Congreve's fancy a dreamy combination
of all the accidents of a sailor's character his con-
tempt of money his credulity to women with
that necessary estrangement from home which it is
just within the verge of credibility to suppose might
produce such an hallucination as is here described.
We never think the worse of Ben for it, or feel it as
a stain upon his character. But when an actor


comes, and instead of the delightful phantom the
creature dear to half-belief which Bannister ex-
hibited displays before our eyes a downright con-
cretion of a Wapping sailor a jolly warm-hearted
Jack Tar and nothing else when instead of in-
vesting it with a delicious confusedness of the head,
and a veering undirected goodness of purpose he
gives to it a downright daylight understanding, and
a full consciousness of its actions ; thrusting forward
the sensibilities of the character with a pretence as if
it stood upon nothing else, and was to be judged
by them alone we feel the discord of the thing ; the
scene is disturbed; a real man has got in among
the dramatis personse, and puts them out. We want
the sailor turned out. We feel that his true place is
not behind the curtain but in the first or second


THE artificial Comedy, or Comedy of manners, is
quite extinct on our stage. Congreve and Farquhar
show their heads once in seven years only, to be
exploded and put down instantly. The times can-
not bear them. Is it for a few wild speeches, an
occasional license of dialogue? I think not alto-
gether. The business of their dramatic characters
will not stand the moral test. We screw every thing
up to that. Idle gallantry in a fiction, a dream, the
passing pageant of an evening, startles us in the
same way as the alarming indications of profligacy in
a son or ward in real life should startle a parent or
guardian. We have no such middle emotions as
dramatic interests left. We see a stage libertine
playing his loose pranks of two hours' duration, and
of no after consequence, with the severe eyes which
inspect real vices with their bearings upon two worlds.
We are spectators to a plot or intrigue (not reducible
in life to the point of strict morality) and take it all


for truth. We substitute a real for a dramatic per-
son, and judge him accordingly. We try him in our
courts, from which there is no appeal to the dramatis
persona, his peers. We have been spoiled with
not sentimental comedy but a tyrant far more
pernicious to our pleasures which has succeeded to
it, the exclusive and all devouring drama of common
life ; where the moral point is every thing ; where,
instead of the fictitious half-believed personages of
the stage (the phantoms of old comedy) we recog-
nise ourselves, our brothers, aunts, kinsfolk, allies,
patrons, enemies, the same as in life, with an
interest in what is going on so hearty and substantial,
that we cannot afford our moral judgment, in its
deepest and most vital results, to compromise or
slumber for a moment. What is there transacting,
by no modification is made to affect us in any other
manner than the same events or characters would do
in our relationships of life. We carry our fire-side
concerns to the theatre with us. We do not go
thither, like our ancestors, to escape from the pres-
sure of reality, so much as to confirm our experience
of it ; to make assurance double, and take a bond of
fate. We must live our toilsome lives twice over,
as it was the mournful privilege of Ulysses to de-
scend twice to the shades. All that neutral ground
of character, which stood between vice and virtue ;
or which in fact was indifferent to neither, where


neither properly was called in question ; that happy
breathing-place from the burthen of a perpetual
moral questioning the sanctuary and quiet Alsatia
of hunted casuistry is broken up and disfranchised,
as injurious to the interests of society. The privi-
leges of the place are taken away by law. We dare
not dally with images, or names, of wrong. We bark
like foolish dogs at shadows. We dread infection
from the scenic representation of disorder; and fear
a painted pustule. In our anxiety that our morality
should not take cold, we wrap it up in a great blanket
surtout of precaution against the breeze and sunshine.
I confess for myself that (with no great delinquen-
cies to answer for) I am glad for a season to take an
airing beyond the diocese of the strict conscience,
not to live always in the precincts of the law-courts,
but now and then, for a dream- while or so, to im-
agine a world with no meddling restrictions to get
into recesses, whither the hunter cannot follow me

Secret shades

Of woody Ida's inmost grove,

While yet there was no fear of Jove

I come back to my cage and my restraint the fresher
and more healthy for it. I wear my shackles more
contentedly for having respired the breath of an
imaginary freedom. I do not know how it is with
others, but I feel the better always for the perusal of
one of Congreve's nay, why should I not add even


of Wycherley's comedies. I am the gayer at least
for it ; and I could never connect those sports of a
witty fancy in any shape with any result to be drawn
from them to imitation in real life. They are a
world of themselves almost as much as fairyland.
Take one of their characters, male or female (with
few exceptions they are alike), and place it in a
modern play, and my virtuous indignation shall rise
against the profligate wretch as warmly as the Catos
of the pit could desire ; because in a modern play
I am to judge of the right and the wrong. The
standard of police is the measure of political jus-
tice. The atmosphere will blight it, it cannot live
here. It has got into a moral world, where it has
no business, from which it must needs fall headlong ;
as dizzy, and incapable of making a stand, as a
Swedenborgian bad spirit that has wandered una-
wares into the sphere of one of his Good Men, or
Angels. But in its own world do we feel the crea-
ture is so very bad? The Fainalls and the Mira-
bels, the Dorimants and the Lady Touchwoods, in
their own sphere, do not offend my moral sense ; in
fact they do not appeal to it at all. They seem
engaged in their proper element. They break
through no laws, or conscientious restraints. They
know of none. They have got out of Christendom
into the land what shall I call it ? of cuckoldry
the Utopia of gallantry, where pleasure is duty,


and the manners perfect freedom. It is altogether
a speculative scene of things, which has no reference
whatever to the world that is. No good person can
be justly offended as a spectator, because no good
person suffers on the stage. Judged morally, every
character in these plays the few exceptions only
are mistakes is alike essentially vain and worthless.
The great art of Congreve is especially shown in
this, that he has entirely excluded from his scenes,
some little generosities in the part of Angelica
perhaps excepted, not only any thing like a fault-
less character, but any pretensions to goodness or
good feelings whatsoever. Whether he did this de-
signedly, or instinctively, the effect is as happy, as
the design (if design) was bold. I used to wonder
at the strange power which his Way of the World
in particular possesses of interesting you all along in
the pursuits of characters, for whom you absolutely
care nothing for you neither hate nor love his
personages and I think it is owing to this very
indifference for any, that you endure the whole. He
has spread a privation of moral light, I will call it,
rather than by the ugly name of palpable darkness,
over his creations; and his shadows flit before you
without distinction or preference. Had he intro-
duced a good character, a single gush of moral feel-
ing, a revulsion of the judgment to actual life and
actual duties, the impertinent Goshen would have only


lighted to the discovery of deformities, which now
are none, because we think them none.

Translated into real life, the characters of his, and
his friend Wycherley's dramas, are profligates and
strumpets, the business of their brief existence,
the undivided pursuit of lawless gallantry. No other
spring of action, or possible motive of conduct, is
recognised ; principles which, universally acted upon.,
must reduce this frame of things to a chaos. But
we do them wrong in so translating them. No such
effects are produced in their world. When we are
among them, we are amongst a chaotic people. We
are not to judge them by our usages. No reverend
institutions are insulted by their proceedings, for
they have none among them. No peace of families
is violated, for no family ties exist among them.
No purity of the marriage bed is stained, for
none is supposed to have a being. No deep affec-
tions are disquieted, no holy wedlock bands are
snapped asunder, for affection's depth and wedded
faith are not of the growth of that soil. There is
neither right nor wrong, gratitude or its opposite,
claim or duty, paternity or sonship. Of what
consequence is it to virtue, or how is she at all con-
cerned about it, whether Sir Simon, or Dapperwit,
steal away Miss Martha; or who is the father of
Lord Froth's, or Sir Paul Pliant's children.

The whole is a passing pageant, where we should


sit as unconcerned at the issues, for life or death,
as at a battle of the frogs and mice. But, like Don
Quixote, we take part against the puppets, and quite
as impertinently. We dare not contemplate an At-
lantis, a scheme, out of which our coxcombical moral
sense is for a little transitory ease excluded. We
have not the courage to imagine a state of things
for which there is neither reward nor punishment.
We cling to the painful necessities of shame and
blame. We would indict our very dreams.

Amidst the mortifying circumstances attendant
upon growing old, it is something to have seen the
School for Scandal in its glory. This comedy grew
out of Congreve and Wycherley, but gathered some
allays of the sentimental comedy which followed
theirs. It is impossible that it should be now acted,
though it continues, at long intervals, to be an-
nounced in the bills. Its hero, when Palmer played
it at least, was Joseph Surface. When I remember
the gay boldness, the graceful solemn plausibility, the
measured step, the insinuating voice to express it
in a word the downright acted villany of the part,
so different from the pressure of conscious actual
wickedness, the hypocritical assumption of hypoc-
risy, which made Jack so deservedly a favourite
in that character, I must needs conclude the present
generation of play-goers more virtuous than myself,
or more dense. I freely confess that he divided


the palm with me with his better brother ; that, in
fact, I liked him quite as well. Not but ther^ are
passages, like that, for instance, where Joseph is
made to refuse a pittance to a poor relation, in-
congruities which Sheridan was forced upon by the
attempt to join the artificial with the sentimental
comedy, either of which must destroy the other
but over these obstructions Jack's manner floated
him so lightly, that a refusal from him no more
shocked you, than the easy compliance of Charles
gave you in reality any pleasure; you got over the
paltry question as quickly as you could, to get back
into the regions of pure comedy, where no cold
moral reigns. The highly artificial manner of Palmer
in this character counteracted every disagreeable im-
pression which you might have received from the
contrast, supposing them real, between the two
brothers. You did not believe in Joseph with the
same faith with which you believed in Charles. The
latter was a pleasant reality, the former a no less
pleasant poetical foil to it. The comedy, I have
said, is incongruous ; a mixture of Congreve with
sentimental incompatibilities : the gayety upon the
whole is buoyant; but it required the consummate
art of Palmer to reconcile the discordant elements.

A player with Jack's talents, if we had one now,
would not dare to do the part in the same manner.
He would instinctively avoid every turn which might


tend to unrealise, and so to make the character fas-
cinating. He must take his cue from his spectators,
who would expect a bad man and a good man as
rigidly opposed to each other as the death-beds of
those geniuses are contrasted in the prints, which I
am sorry to say have disappeared from the windows
of my old friend Carrington Bowles, of St. Paul's
Church-yard memory (an exhibition as venerable
as the adjacent cathedral, and almost coeval) of the
bad and good man at the hour of death ; where the
ghastly apprehensions of the former, and truly
the grim phantom with his reality of a toasting fork is
not to be despised, so finely contrast with the
meek complacent kissing of the rod, taking it in
like honey and butter, with which the latter sub"
mits to the scythe of the gentle bleeder, Time, who
wields his lancet with the apprehensive finger of a
popular young ladies' surgeon. What flesh, like
loving grass, would not covet to meet half-way the
stroke of such a delicate mower? John Palmer
was twice an actor in this exquisite part. He was
playing to you all the while that he was playing upon
Sir Peter and his lady. You had the first intimation
of a sentiment before it was on his lips. His altered
voice was meant to you, and you were to suppose
that his fictitious co-flutterers on the stage perceived

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays → online text (page 17 of 32)