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The life, letters, and writings of Charles Lamb (Volume 6) online

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work does the latter make with his " necking a pas-
sion at a stroke," " making a man storm and
swagger like a tempest," and then " taking him down,
and sweeting his humour in a trice!" What in
Dryden is " softly sweet in Lydian measures,"
Collier calls " chopping into a Dorian." This Collier
was the same, who, in his Biographical Dictionary,
says of Shakspeare, that " though his genius
generally was jocular, and inclining to festivity, yet
he could when he pleased he as serious as any body.''

Oh the comfort of sitting down heartily to an old
folio, and thinking surely that the next hour or two
will be your own ! — and the misery of being defeated
by the useless call of somebody, who is come to tell
you that he has just come from hearing Mr. Irving !
What is that to you ? Let him go home, and digest
what the good man has said. You are at your chapel,
in your oratory.

Our ancestors, the noble old Puritans of Cromwell's
day, could o^-'tinguish between a day of religious rest


and a day of recreation ; and while they exacted a
vigorous abstinence from all amusements (even to
the walking out of nursery-maids with their charges in
the fields) upon the Sabbath, in lieu of the superstitious
observance of the saints' days, which they abrogated,
they humanely gave to the apprentices and poorer
sort of people every alternate Thursday for a day of
entire sport and recreation ; — a strain of piety and
policy to be commended above the profane mockery
of the Stuarts and their " Book of Sports."

Samuel Johnson, whom, to distinguish from the
doctor, we may call the Whig, was a very remarkable
writer. He may be compared to his contemporary,
Dr. Fox, whom he resembled in many points. He is
another instance of King William's discrimination,
which was so superior to that of any of his ministers.
Johnson was one of the most formidable of the ad-
vocates for the Exclusion Bill ; and he suffered by
whipping and imprisonment under James accordingly.
Like Asgill, he argues with great apparent candour
and clearness till he gets his opponent within reach ;
and then comes a blow as from a sledge-hammer. I
do not know where I could put my hand on a book
containing so much sense and constitutional doctrine
as this thin folio of Johnson's Works ; and what
party in this country would read so severe a lecture
in it as our modern Whigs ? A close reasoner and
a good writer in general may be known by his
pertinent use of connections. Read any page of
Johnson, you cannot alter one conjunction without
spoiling the sense; it is a linked chain throughout.
In your modern books, for the most part, the sen-
tences in a page have the same connection with each


Other that marbles have in a bag : they touch without

We are too apt to indemnify ourselves for some
characteristic excellence we are kind enough to con-
cede to a great author by denying him every thing
else. Thus Donne and Cowley, by happening to
possess more wit, and faculty of illustration, than
other men, are supposed to have been incapable of
nature or feeling: they are usually opposed to such
writers as Shenstone and Parnell ; whereas, in the
very thickest of their conceits, — in the bewildering
mazes of tropes and figures, — a warmth of soul and
generous feeling shines through ; the " sum " of
which, "forty thousand" of those natural poets, as
they are called, " with all their quantity," could not
make up.

I have in my possession a curious volume of Latin
verses, which I believe to be unique. It is entitled,
Alexandri FuUoni Scoti Epigrammatorum libri quin-
que. It purports to be printed at Perth, and bears
date 1769. By the appellation which the author
gives himself in the preface, hypodidasculus, I sup-
pose him to have been an usher at some school. It
is no uncommon thing now-a-days for persons con-
cerned in academies to affect a literary reputation in
the way of their trade. The " master of a seminary
for a limited number of pupils at Islington " lately
put forth an edition of that scarce tract, "The Elegy
in a Country Churchyard," (to use his own words,)
with notes and head-lines ! But to our author :
These epigrams of Alexander Fulton, Scotchman,
have little remarkable in them besides extreme dulness


and insipidity; but there is one, which, by its being
marshalled in the front of the volume, seems to have
been the darling of its parent, and for its exquisite
flatness, and the surprising strokes of an anachronism
with which it is pointed, deserves to be rescued from
oblivion. It is addressed, like many of the others,
to a fair one : —


" Moverunt bella olim Helenae decor atque veniistas
Europen inter frugiferamque Asiam.
Tam bona, quam tu, tarn prudens, sin ilia fuisset.
Ad lites issent Africa et America!"

Which, in humble imitation of mine author's peculiar
poverty of style, I have ventured thus to render into
English : —


" For Love's illustrious cause, and Helen's charms,
All Europe and all Asia rushed to arms.
Had she with these thy polish'd sense combined,
Ail Afric and America had join'd!"

The happy idea of an American war undertaken in
the cause of beauty ought certainly to recommend
the author's memory to the countrymen of Maddison
and Jefferson ; and the bold anticipation of the dis-
covery of that continent in the time of the Trojan
War is a flight beyond the Sybil's books.






This theatre, fitted up with new and tasteful decora-
tions, opened on Monday with a burletta founded
upon a pleasant extravagance recorded of Wilmot,
the " mad Lord " of Rochester. The house, in its
renovated condition, is just what playhouses should be,
and once were, from its size admirably adapted for see-
ing and hearing, and only perhaps rather too well lit up.
Light is a good thing, but to preserve the eyes is still
better. Elliston and Mrs. Edwin personated a reign-
ing wit and beauty of the Court of Charles the Second
to the life. But the charm of the evening to us, we
confess, was the acting of Mrs. T. Gould (late Miss
Burrell) in the burlesque Don Giovanni, which fol-
lowed. This admirable piece of foolery takes up our
hero just where the Legitimate drama leaves him, on
the " burning marl." We are presented with a fair
map of Tartarus, the triple-headed cur, the Furies,
Tormentors, and the Don, prostrate, thunder-smitten.
But there is an elasticity in the original make of this
strange man, as Richardson would have called him.
He is not of those who change with the change of
climate. He brings with him to his new habitation
ardours as glowing and constant as which he finds


there. No sooner is he recovered from his first sur-
prise, then he falls to his old trade, is caught "ogling
Proserpitie," and coquets with two she-devils at once,
till he makes the house too hot to hold him ; and Pluto
(in whom a wise jealousy seems to produce the effects
of kindness) turns him neck and heels out of his
dominions, — much to the satisfaction of Giovanni,
who, stealing a boat from Charon, and a pair of light
heels from Mercuyy, or (as he familiarly terms him)
Murky, sets off with flying colours, conveying to the
world above the souls of three damsels, just eloped
from Styx, to comfort his tender and new-born spiritu-
alities on the journey. Arrived upon earth (with a
new body, we are to suppose, but his old habits,) he
lights apropos upon a tavern in London, at the door
of which three merry weavers, widowers, are trolling
a catch in triumph over their deceased spouses —

They lie in yonder churchyard
At rest — and so are we.

Their departed partners prove to be the identical lady
ghosts who have accompanied the Don in his flight,
whom he now delivers up in perfect health and good
plight, not a jot the worse for their journey, to the
infinite surprise and consternation, ill-dissembled, of
their ill-fated, twice-yoked mates. The gallantries of
the Don in his second state of probation, his meeting
with Leporcllo, with Donna Anna, and a countless
host of injured virgins besides, doing penance in the
humble occupation of apple-women, fish-wives, and
sausage-fryers, in the purlieus of Billingsgate and
Covent Garden, down to the period of his complete
reformation, and being made an honest man of, by
marrying into a sober English citizen's family, although


infinitely pleasant in the exhibition, would be some-
what tedious in the recital ; but something must be
said of his representative.

We have seen Mrs. Jordan in male characters, and
more ladies besides than we would wish to recollect —
but never any that so completely answered the pur-
pose for the mock Giovanni. This part, as it is played
at the Great House in the Haymarket, (shade of
Mozart, and ye living admirers of Ambrogetti, pardon
the barbarity) had always something repulsive and dis-
tasteful to us. We cannot sympathise with Leporello's
brutal display of the list, and were shocked (not strait-
laced moralists either) with the applauses, with the
endurance we ought rather to say, which fashion and
beauty bestowed upon that disgustful insult to
feminine unhappiness. The Leporello of the Olympic
Theatre is not of the most refined order ; but we can
bear with an English blackguard better than with the
hard Italian. But Giovanni — free, fine, frank-spirited,
single-hearted creature, turning all the mischief into
fun as harmless as toys or children's make-believe,
what praise can we repay to you, adequate to the
pleasure which you have given us ? We had better
be silent, for you have no names, and our men-
tion may be thought fantastical. You have taken
out the sting from the evil thing, but by what magic
we know not ; for there are actresses of greater mark
and attributes than you. With you and your Giovanni
our spirits will hold communion whenever sorrow or
suffering shall be our lot. We have seen you triumph
over the infernal powers ; and pain, and Erebus, and
the powers of darkness are henceforth "Shapes of a




Dear G , — I was thinking yesterday of our old

play-going days, of your and my partiality to Mrs.
Jordan, of our disputes as to the relative merits of
Dodd and Parsons, and whether Smith or Jack Palmer
were the most of a gentleman. The occasion of my
falling into this train of thinking, was my learning from
the newspapers that Miss Kelly is paying the Bath
Theatre a visit (your own theatre, I am sorry to find,
is shut up, either from parsimonious feelings, or

through the influence of • principles).! This

lady has long ranked among the most considerable of
our London performers. If there are one or two of
greater name, I must impute it to the circumstance
that she has never burst upon the town at once in the
maturity of her powers, which is a great advantage to
debutantes who have passed their probationary years in
Provincial Theatres. We do not hear them tuning their
instruments. But she has been winning her patient
way from the humblest degradations to the eminence
which she has now attained, on the selfsame boards
which. supported her first in the slender pretensions of

1 The word here omitted by the Bristol Editor, we suppose, is


chorus singer. I very much wish you would go and
see her. You will not see Mrs. Jordan, but something
else; something on the whole very little, if at all, in-
ferior to that lady in her best days. I cannot hope
that you will think so, I do not even wish that you
should. Our longest remembrances are the most
sacred, and I shall revere the prejudice that shall
prevent you from thinking quite so favourably of her
as I do. I do not well know how to draw a parallel
between their distinct manners of acting. I seem to
recognise the same pleasantness and nature in both.
But Mrs. Jordan's was the carelessness of a child; her
childlike spirit shook off the load of years from her
spectators ; she seemed one whom care could not
come near ; a privileged being sent to teach mankind
what he most wants — ^joyousness. Hence, if we had
more unmixed pleasure from her performances, we
had perhaps less sympathy with them than with those
of her successor. This latter lady's is the joy of a freed
spirit escaping from care, as a bird that had been limed ;
her smiles, if I may use the expression, seemed saved
out of the fire, relics which a good spirit had snatched
up as most portable ; her discontents are visitors
and not inmates : she can lay them by altogether, and
when she does so, I am not sure that she is not
greatest. She is in truth no ordinary tragedian. Her
Yarico is the most intense piece of acting which I
ever witnessed, the most heart-rending spectacle.
To see her leaning upon that wretched reed, her lover —
the very exhibition of whose character would be a
moral offence, but for her clinging and noble credulity
— to see her lean upon that flint, and by the strong
workings of passion, imagine it a god, is one of the
:most afflicting lessons of the yearnings of the human


heart, and its mistakes, that was ever read upon a
stage. The whole performance is everywhere African,
fervid, glowing. Nor is this anything more than the
wonderful force of imagination in this performer ; for
turn but the scene, andyou shall have her come forward
in some kindly home-drawn character of an English
rustic, a Phoebe, or a Dinah Cropley where you would
swear that her thoughts had never strayed beyond the
precincts of the dairy or the farm, or her mind known
less tranquil passions than she might have learned
among the flock, her out-of-door companions. See
her again in parts of pure fun, such as the Housemaid
in the Merry Mourners, where the suspension of the
broom in her hand, which she has been delightfully
twirling, on unexpectedly encountering her sweetheart
in the character of her fellow-servant, is quite equal to
Mrs. Jordan's cordial inebriation in Nell. I do not
know whether I am not speaking it to her honour, that
she does not succeed in what are called fine lady

parts. Our friend C once observed that no man of

genius ever figured as a gentleman. Neither did any
woman gifted witn Mrs. Jordan's or Miss Kelly's
sensibilities ever take upon herself to shine as a fine
lady ; the very essence of this character consisting in
the entire repression of all genius and all feeling. To
sustain a part of this kind to the life, a performer
must be haunted by a perpetual self-reference, she
must be always thinking of herself, and how she looks,
and how she deports herself in the eyes of the specta-
tors ; whereas the delight of actresses of true feeling
and their chief power, is to elude the personal notice
of an audience, to escape into their parts and hide
themselves under the hood of their assumed character.
Their most self-possessions is in fi»ct a self-forgetful-


ness ; an oblivion alike of self and spectators. For
this reason your most approved epilogue-speakers
have been always ladies who have possessed least
of this self-forgetting quality ; and I think I have
seen the amiable actress in question suffering some
embarrassment, when she has had an address of the
sort to deliver ; when she found the modest veil of
personation, which had half hid her from the audience,
suddenly withdrawn, and herself brought without any
such gratifying intervention before the public.

I would apologise for the length of this letter, if I
did not remember the lively interest you used to take
in theatrical performers.

I am, &c. &c.

Feb. 7, 1819. "* * * *"


The Jovial Crew, or the Merry Beggars, has been
revived here [at the English Opera] after an interval,
as the bills tell us, of seven years. Can it be so long
(it seems but yesterday) since we saw poor Lovegrove
in Justice Clack? His childish treble stilJ pipes in
our ears; "Whip 'em, whip 'em, whip 'em.'' Dowton
was the representative of the Justice the other night,
and shook our ribs most incontinently. He was in
"excellent foolery," and our lungs crowed chanticleer.
Yet it appears to us that there was a still higher strain
of fatuity in his predecessor — that his eyes distilled a
richer dotage. Perhaps, after all, it was an error of
the memory. Defunct merit comes out upon us

VOL. VI. p


Easy natural Wrench was the Springlove ; too
comfortable a personage perhaps to personify Spring-
love, in whom the voice of the bird awakens a restless
instinct of roaming that had slept during the winter.
Miss Stevenson certainly leaves us nothing to regret
for the absence of the lady, however agreeable, who
formerly performed the part of Meriel. Miss Steven-
son is a fine open-countenanced lass, with glorious
girlish manners. But the Princess of Mumpers, and
Lady Paramount of beggarly counterfeit accents, was
she that played Rachel. Her gabbling lachrymose
petitions ; her tones, such as we have heard by the
side of old woods, when an irresistible face has come
peeping on one on a sudden ; with her full black
locks, and a voice — how shall we describe it? — a voice
that was by nature meant to convey nothing but trutli
and goodness, but warped by circumstance into an
assurance that she is telling us a lie — that catching
twitch of the thievish irreprovahle finger — those ballad-
singers' notes, so vulgar, yet so unvulgar — that as-
surance so like impudence and yet so many countless
leagues removed from it — her jeers, which we had
rather stand, than be caressed with other ladies' com-
pliments, a summer's day long — her face, with a wild
out-of-doors grace upon it

Altogether, a brace of more romantic she-beggars
it was never our fortune to meet in this supplicatory
world. The youngest might have sat for " pretty
Bessy," whose father was an Earl, and whose legend
still adorns the front of mine hostess's doors at
Bethnal Green ; and the other could be no less than
the " Beggar Maid " whom " King Cophetua wooed."
" What a lass that were," said a stranger who sate
beside us, speaking of Miss Kelly in Rachel, " to go


a-gypsying through the world with." We confess we
longed to drop a tester in her lap, she begged so

by-the-way, this is the true Beggar s Opera. The
other should have been called tht Mirror for High-
waymen. We wonder the Societies for the Sup-
pression of Mendicity (and other good things) do not
club for the putting down of this infamous protest in
favour of air, and clear liberty, and honest license,
and blameless assertion of man's original blest charter
ofiblue skies, and vagrancy, and nothing-to-do.

July 4, 1819.


By one of those perversions which actuate poor mortals
in the place of motives (to persuade us into the notion
that we are free agents, we presume), we had never
till the other evening seen Dowton [at the English
Opera] in Dr. Cantwell. By a pious fraud of Mr.
Arnold's, who by a process as simple as some of those
by which Mathews metamorphoses his person, has
converted the play into an opera, — a conversion, by-
the-way, for which we are deeply indebted to him, —
we have been favoured with this rich novelty at our
favourite theatre. It seems a little unreasonable to
come lagging in with a posthumous testimony to the
merits of a performance of which the town has long
rung, but we cannot help remarking in Mr. Dowton's
acting, the subtle gradations of the hypocrisy; the
length to which it runs in proportion as the recipient

p 2


is capable of taking it in ; the gross palpable way in
which he administers the dose in wholesale to old
Lady Lambert, that rich fanatic ; the somewhat more
guarded manner in which he retails it out, only so
much a time as he can bear, to the somewhat less
bitten fool her son ; and the almost absence of it before
the younger members of the family, when nobody else
is by ; how the cloven foot peeps out a little and a
little more, till the diabolical nature is stung out at
last into full manifestation of its horrid self. What a
grand insolence in the tone which he assumes, when
he commands Sir John to quit his house ; and then
the tortures and agonies when he is finally baffled !
It is in these last perhaps that he is greatest, and we
should be doing injustice not to compare this part of
the performance with, and in some respects to give it
the preference above, the acting of Mr. Kean, in a
situation nearly analagous, at the conclusion of the
City Madam. Cantwell reveals his pangs with quite
as much force, and without the assistance of those
contortions which transform the detected Luke into
the similitude of a mad tiger, or a foaming demon.
Dowton plays it neither like beast nor demon, but
simply as it should be, a bold bad man pushed to
extremity. Humanity is never once overstepped.
Has it ever been noticed, the exquisite modulation
with which he drawls out the word " Charles," when
he calls his secretary, so humble, so seraphic, so
resigned. The most diabolical of her sex that we
ever knew accented her honey devil words in just
such a hymn-like smoothness. The spirit of Whit-
field seems hovering in the air, to suck the blessed
tones so much like his own upon earth : Lady
Huntingdon claps her neat white wings, and gives it


out again ir. heaven to the sainted ones, in appro-

Miss Kelly is not quite at home in Charlotte ; she
is too good for such parts. Her cue is to be natural ;
she cannot put on the modes of artificial life, and play
the coquette as it is expected to be played. There is
a frankness in her tones which defeats her purposes ;
we could not help wondering why her lover (Mr.
Pearman) looked so rueful ; we forgot that she was
acting airs and graces, as she seemed to forget it her-
self, turning them into a playfulness which could
breed no doubt for a moment which way her inclina-
tions ran. She is in truth not framed to tease or
torment even in jest, but to utter a hearty Yes or No ,
to yield or refuse assent with a noble sincerity. We
have not the pleasure of being acquainted with her,
but we have been told that she carries the same cordial
manners into private life. We have heard, too, of
some virtues which she is in the practice of; but they
are of a description which repay themselves, and with
them neither we nor the public have anything to do.

One word about Wrench who played the Colonel: —
Was this man never unhappy ? It seems as if care
never came near him, as if the black ox could never
tread upon his foot ; we want something calamitous
to befall him, to bring him down to us. It is a shame
he should be suffered to go about with his well-looking
happy face and tones insulting us thin race of irritable
and irritable-making critics.

Aug. 2. 1 819.



A PLOT has broke out at this theatre. Some quarrel
has been breeding between the male and female per-
formers, and the women have determined to set up
for themselves. Seven of them, Belles without Beaux
they call themselves, have undertaken to get up a
piece without any assistance from the men, and in
our opinion have established their point most suc-
cessfully. There is Miss Carew with her silvery tones,
and Miss Stevenson with her delicious mixture of the
school-girl and the waiting-maid, and Miss Kelly, sure
to be first in any mischief, and Mrs. Chatterly, with
some of the best acting we have ever witnessad, and
Miss Love, worthy of the name, and Mrs. Grove that
rhymes to her, and Mrs. Richardson who might in
charity have been allowed somewhat a larger portion
of the dialogue. The effect was enchanting. We
mean for once. We do not want to encourage these
Amazonian vanities. Once or twice we longed to
have Wrench bustling among them. A lady who sate
near us was observed to gape for want of variety. To
us it was delicate quintessence, an apple-pie made all
of quinces. We remember poor Holcroft's last comedy,
which positively died from the opposite excess; it was
choked up with men, and perished from a redundancy
of male population. It had nine principal men cha-
racters in it, and but one woman, and she of no very
ambiguous character. Mrs. Harlow, to do the part
justice, chose to play it in scarlet.

Online LibraryCharles LambThe life, letters, and writings of Charles Lamb (Volume 6) → online text (page 14 of 29)