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REYNELL, Printer,
Broad-street, Golden-square— 1818.



On the Tragedies of Shakspeare - - - - 1

Characters of Dramatic Writers contemporary with

Shakspeare - - - - - - 37

Specimens from the Writings of Fuller - - - 72

On the Character and Genius of Hogarth - - - - 88

On the Poetical Works of George Wither - - - - 127


Under assumed Signatures.

The Londoner - - - 139

On Burial Societies, &c. - - - - - 143

On the Danger of confounding Moral with Personal

Deformity - - - - - - 154

On the Inconveniences resulting from being Hanged 166
On the Melancholy of Tailors - - - - 184

Hospita on the immoderate Indulgence of the Plea-
sures of the Palate - - - - - Vyi

Edax on Appetite - - - - - - 199

Mr. H , a Farce, in Two Acts- - - - 213




Forgive me, Burney, if to thee these late

And hasty products of a critic pen.

Thyself no common judge of books and men,

In feeling of thy worth I dedicate.

My verse was offered to an older friend ;

The humbler jaro^e has fallen to thy share:

Nor could I miss the occasion to declare.

What spoken in thy presence must offend —

That, set aside some few caprices wild,

Those humorous clouds that flit o'er brightest days.

In all ray threadings of this worldly maze,

(And I have watched thee almost from a child),

Free from self-seeking, envy, low design,

I have not found a whiter soul than thine.





1 AKiNG a turn the other day in the Abbey^ I
was struck with the affected attitude of a figure,
which I do not remember to have seen before,
and which upon examination proved to be a
whole-length of the celebrated Mr. Garrick.
Though I would not go so far with some good
catholics abroad as to shut players altogether
out of consecrated ground, yet I own I was not
a little scandalized at the introduction of thea-
trical airs and gestures into a place set apart to
remind us of the saddest realities. Going nearer,


2 ON shakspeare's tragedies.

I found inscribed under this harlequin figure the
following lines : —

To paint fair Nature, by divine command,
Her magic pencil in his glowing hand,
A Shakspeare rose ; then, to expand his fame
Wide o'er this breathing world, a Garrick came.
Though sunk in death the forms the Poet drew.
The Actor's genius bade them breathe anew ;
Though, like the bard himself, in night they lay,
Immortal Garrick call'd them back to day :
And till Eternity with pow'r sublime
Shall mark the mortal hour of hoary Time,
Shakspeare and Garrick like twin-stars shall shine,
And earth irradiate with a beam divine.

It would be an insult to my readers' under-
standings to attempt any thing like a criticism
on this farrago of false thoughts and nonsense.
But the reflection it led me into was a kind of
wonder, how, from the days of the actor here
celebrated to our own, it should have been the
fashion to compliment every performer in his
turn, that has had the luck to please the town
in any of the great characters of Shakspeare,
with the notion of possessing a iiwicl congenial
with the poeVs: how people should come thus
unaccountably to confound the power of origi-
nating poetical images and conceptions with the

ON shakspeare's tragedies.

faculty of being able to read or recite the same
when put into words ;* or what connection that
absolute mastery over the heart and soul of man,
which a great dramatic poet possesses, has with
those low tricks upon the eye and ear, which a
player by observing a few general eflfects, which
some common passion, as grief, anger, &c. usually
has upon the gestures and exterior, can so easily
compass. To know the internal workings and
movements of a great mind, of an Othello or a
Hamlet for instance, the when and the why and
the how far they should be moved ; to what
pitch a passion is becoming ; to give the reins
and to pull in the curb exactly at the moment
when the drawing in or the slackening is most
graceful -, seems to demand a reach of intellect
of a vastly different extent from that which is

* It is observable that we fall into this confusion only
in dratnntic recitations. We never dream that the gen-
tleman who reads Lucretius in public with great ap-
plause, is therefore a great poet and philosopher ; nor
do we find that Tom Davies, the bookseller, who is re-
corded to have recited the Paradise Lost better than any
man in England in his day (though I cannot help think-
ing there must be some mistake in this tradition) was
therefore, by his intimate friends, set upon a level with

4 ON shakspeare's tragedies.

employed upon the bare imitation of the signs
of these passions in the countenance or gesture,
which signs are usually observed to be most
lively and emphatic in the weaker sort of minds,
and which signs can after all but indicate some
passion, as I said before, anger, or grief, gene-
rally j but of the motives and grounds of the
passion, wherein it diifers from the same passion
in low and vulgar natures, of these the actor can
give no more idea by his face or gesture than
the eye (without a metaphor) can speak, or the
muscles utter intelligible sounds. But such is
the instantaneous nature of the impressions
which we take in at the eye and ear at a play-
house, compared with the slow apprehension
oftentimes of the understanding in reading, that
we are apt not only to sink the play- writer in
the consideration which we pay to the actor,
but even to identify in our minds in a perverse
manner, the actor with the character which he
represents. It is difficult for a frequent play-
goer to disembarrass the idea of Hamlet from
the person and voice of Mr. K. We speak of
Lady Macbeth, while we are in reality thinking
of Mrs. S. Nor is this confusion incidental alone
to unlettered persons, who, not possessing the


advantage of reading, are necessaiily dependent
upon the stage-player for all the pleasure which
they can receive from the drama, and to whom
the verv idea of what an author is cannot be made
comprehensible without some pain and perplexity
of mind : the error is one from which persons
otherwise not meanly lettered, find it almost
impossible to extricate themselves.

Never let me be so ungrateful as to forget
the very high degree of satisfaction which I re-
ceived some yeai's back from seeing for the first
time a tragedy of Shakspeare performed, in
which those two great performers sustained the
principal parts. It seemed to embody and rea-
lize conceptions which had hitherto assumed no
distinct shape. But dearly do we pay all our
life after for this juvenile pleasure, this sense of
distinctness. When the novelty is past, we find
to our cost that instead of realizing an idea, we
have only materialized and brought down a fine
vision to the standard of flesh and blood. We
have let go a dream, in quest of an unattainable

How cruelly this operates upon the mind, to
have its free conceptions thus crampt and pressed
down to the measure of a strait-lacing actuality^


may be judged from that delightful sensation of
freshness, with which we turn to those plays of
Shakspeare which have escaped being performed^
and to those passages in the acting plays of the
same writer which have happily been left out in
the performance. How far the very custom of
hearing any thing spouted, withers and blows
upon a fine passage, may be seen in those speeches
from Henry the Fifth, &c. which are current in
the mouths of school -boys from their being to be
found in Enjield Speakers, and such kind of books.
I confess myself utterly unable to appreciate that
celebrated soliloquy in Hamlet, beginning " To
be or not to be," or to tell whether it be good,
bad, or indifferent, it has been so handled and
pawed about by declamatory boys and men, and
torn so inhumanly from its living place and prin-
ciple of continuity in the play, till it is become
to me a perfect dead member.

It may seem a paradox, but I cannot help be-
ing of opinion that the plays of Shakspeare are
less calculated for performance on a stage, than
those of almost any other dramatist whatever.
Their distinguishing excellence is a reason that
they should be so. There is so much in them,
which comes not under the province of acting.

ON shakspeare's tragedies. 7

with which eye, and tone, and gesture, have
nothing to do.

The glory of the scenic art is to personate
passion, and the turns of passion ; and the more
coarse and palpable the passion is, the more hold
upon the eyes and ears of the spectators the
performer obviously possesses. For this reason,
scolding scenes, scenes where two persons talk
themselves into a fit of fury, and then in a sur-
prising manner talk themselves out of it again,
have always been the most popular upon our
stage. And the reason is plain, because the
spectators are here most palpably appealed to,
they are the proper judges in this war of words,
they are the legitimate ring that should be
formed round such '' intellectual prize-fighters."
Talking is the direct object of the imitation here.
But in all the best dramas, and in Shakspeare
above all, how obvious it is, that the form of
speaking, whether it be in soliloquy or dialogue,
is only a medium, and often a highly artificial
one, for putting the reader or spectator into pos-
session of that knowledge of the inner structure
and workings of mind in a character, which he
could otherwise never have arrived at i?i that
form of composition by any gift short of intuition.

S . ON shakspeare's tragedies.

We do here as we do with novels written in the
epistolary form. How many improprieties, per-
fect solecisms in letter-writing, do we put up
with in Clarissa and other books, for the sake
of the delight which that form upon the whole
gives us.

But the practice of stage representation re-
duces every thing to a controversy of elocution.
Every character, from the boisterous blasphem-
ings of Bajazet to the shrinking timidity of wo-
manhood, must play the orator. The love-dia-
logues of Romeo and Juliet, those silver-sweet
sounds of lovers' tongues by night 3 the more
intimate and sacred sweetness of nuptial collo-
quy between an Othello or a Posthumus with
their married wives, all those delicacies which
are so delightful in the reading, as when we
read of those youthful dalliances in Paradise —

-As beseem'd

Fair couple link'd in happy nuptial league.
Alone : ^

by the inherent fault of stage representation,
how are these things sullied and turned from
their very nature by being exposed to a large
assembly 3 when such speeches as Imogen ad-

ON shakspeare's tragedies. 9

dresses to her lord, come drawling out of the
mouth of a hired actress, whose courtship, though
nominally addressed to the personated Posthu-
mus, is manifestly aimed at the spectators, who
are to judge of her endearments and her returns
of love.

The character of Hamlet is perhaps that by
which, since the days of Betterton, a succession
of popular performers have had the greatest am-
bition to distinguish themselves. The length of
the part may be one of their reasons. But for
the character itself, we find it in a play, and
therefore we judge it a fit subject of dramatic
representation. The play itself abounds in max-
ims and reflexions beyond any other, and there-
fore we consider it as a proper vehicle for con-
veying moral instruction. But Hamlet himself
— what does he suffer meanwhile by being dragged
forth as the public schoolmaster, to give lectures
to the crowd ! Why, nine parts in ten of what
Hamlet does, are transactions between himself
and his moral sense, they are the effusions of his
solitary musings, which he retires to holes and
corners and the most sequestered parts of the
palace to pour forth ; or rather, they are the
silent meditations with which his bosom is burst-

10 ON shakspeare's tragedies.

ing, reduced to words for the sake of the reader,
who must else remain ignorant of what is passing
there. These profound sorrows, these light-and-
noise-abhorring ruminations, which the tongue
scarce dares utter to deaf walls and chambers,
how can they be represented by a gesticulating
actor, who comes and mouths them out before
an audience, making four hundred people his
confidants at once. I say not that it is the fault
of the actor so to do 5 he must pronounce them
ore rotundO) he must accompany them with his
eye, he must insinuate them into his auditory by
some trick of eye, tone, or gesture, or he fails.
He must he thinking all the while of his appearance,
because he knows that all the while the spectators
are judging of it. And this is the way to repre-
sent the shy, negligent, retiring Hamlet.

It is true that there is no other mode of con-
veying a vast quantity of thought and feeling to
a great portion of the audience, who otherwise
would never earn it for themselves by reading,
and the intellectual acquisition gained this way
may, for aught I know, be inestimable ; but I
am not arguing that Hamlet should not be acted,
but how much Hamlet is made another thing by
being acted. I have heard much of the wonders

ON shakspeare's tragedies. 11

which Garrick performed in this part 3 but as I
never saw him, I must have leave to doubt whether
the representation of such a character came
within the province of his art. Those who tell
me of him, speak of his eye, of the magic of his
eye, and of his commanding voice : physical pro-
perties, vastly desirable in an actor, and without
which he can never insinuate meaning into
an auditory, — but what have they to do with
Hamlet ? what have they to do with intellect ?
In fact, the things aimed at in theatrical repre-
sentation, are to arrest the spectator's eye upon
the form and the gesture, and so to gain a more
favourable hearing to what is spoken : it is not
what the character is, but how he looks; not
what he says, but how he speaks it. I see no
reason to think that if the play of Hamlet were
written over again by some such writer as Banks
or Lillo, retaining the process of the story, but
totally omitting all the poetry of it, all the divine
features of Shakspeare, his stupendous intellect;
and only taking care to give us enough of pas-
sionate dialogue, which Banks or Lillo were
never at a loss to furnish ; I see not how the
effect could be much different upon an audience,
nor how the actor has it in his power to repre-

12 ON shakspeare's tragedies.

sent Shakspeare to us differently from his repre-
sentation of Banks or Lillo. Hamlet would still
be a youthful accomplished prince, and must be
gracefully personated 3 he might be puzzled in
his mind, wavering in his conduct, seemingly-
cruel to Ophelia, he might see a ghost, and start
at it, and address it kindly when he found it to
be his father 3 all tliis in the poorest and most
homely language of the servilest creeper after
nature that ever consulted the palate of an audi-
ence 3 without troubling Shakspeare for the
matter : and 1 see not but there would be room
for all the power which an actor has, to display
itself. All the passions and changes of passion
might remain : for those are much less difficult
to write or act than is thought, it is a trick easy
to be attained, it is but rising or falling a note
or two in the voice, a whisper with a significant
forboding look to announce its approach, and so
contagious the counterfeit appearance of any
emotion is, that let the words be what they will,
the look and tone shall carry it off and make it
pass for deep skill in the passions.

It is common for people to talk of Shakspeare's
plays being so natural; that every body can under-
stand him. They are natural indeed, they are

ON shakspeare's tragedies. 13

grounded deep in nature, so deep that the depth
of them lies out of the reach of most of us. You
shall hear the same persons say that George
Barnwell is very natural, and Othello is very
natural, that they are both very deep 5 and to
them they are the same kind of thing. At the
one they sit and shed tears, because a good sort
of young man is tempted by a naughty woman
to commit a trifling peccadillo, the murder of an
uncle or so,* that is all, and so comes to an un-

* If this note could hope to meet the eye of any of the
Managers, I would intreat and beg of them, in the name
of both the Galleries, that this insult upon the morality
of the common people of London should cease to be eter-
nally repeated in the holiday weeks. Why are the 'Pren-
tices of this famous and well-governed city, instead of an
amusement, to be treated over and over again with a
nauseous sermon of George Barnwell ? Why at the end
of their vistoes are we to place the gallows ? Were I an
uncle, I should not much like a nephew of mine to have
such an example placed before his eyes. It is really
making uncle-murder too trivial to exhibit it as done
upon such slight motives ; — it is attributing too much to
such characters as Millwood ; — it is putting things into
the heads of good young men, which they would never
otherwise have dreamed of. Uncles that think any thing
of their lives, should fairly petition the Chamberlaiu
against it.

14 ON shakspeare's tragedies.

timely end, which is so moving ; and at the other,
because a blackamoor in a fit of jealousy kills his
innocent white wife : and the odds are that
ninety- nine out of a hundred would wiUingly
behold the same catastrophe happen to both the
heroes, and have thought the rope more due to
Othello than to Barnwell. For of the texture of
Othello's mind, the inward construction marvel-
lously laid open with all its strengths and weak-
nesses, its heroic confidences and its human mis-
givings, its agonies of hate springing from the
depths of love, they see no more than the spec-
tators at a cheaper rate, who pay their pennies
a-piece to look through the man's telescope in
Leicester-fields, see into the inward plot and
topography of the moon. Some dim thing or
other they see, they see an actor personating a
passion, of grief, or anger, for instance, and they
recognize it as a copy of the usual external effects
of such passions ; or at least as being true to
that symbol of the emotion which passes current at
the theatre for it, for it is often no more than
that : but of the grounds of the passion, its cor-
respondence to a great or heroic nature, which
is the only worthy object of tragedy, — that com-
mon auditors know any thing of this, or can


have any such notions dinned into them by the
mere strength of an actor's lungs, — that appre-
hensions foreign to them should be thus infused
into them by storm^ I can neither believe, nor
understand how it can be possible.

We talk of Shakspeare's admirable observation
of life, when we should feel, that not from a
petty inquisition into those cheap and every-day
characters which surrounded him, as they sur-
round us, but from his own mind, which was, to
borrow a phrase of Ben Jonson's, the very
^^ sphere of humanity," he fetched those images
of virtue and of knowledge, of which every one
of us recognizing a part, think we comprehend
in our natures the whole ; and oftentimes mis-
take the powers which he positively creates in
us, for nothing more than indigenous faculties
of our own minds, which only waited the appli-
cation of corresponding virtues in him to return
a full and clear echo of the same.

To return to Hamlet. — Among the distinguish-
ing features of that wonderful character, one of
the most interesting (yet painful) is that sore-
ness of mind which makes him treat the intru-
sions of Polonius with harshness, and that aspe-
rity which he puts on in his interviews with

16 ON shakspeare's tragedies.

Ophelia. These tokens of an unhinged mind (if
they be not mixed in the latter case with a pro-
found artifice of love^ to alienate Ophelia by
affected discourtesies, so to prepare her mind for
the breaking off of that loving intercourse;, which
can no longer find a place amidst business so
serious as that which he has to do) are parts of
his character, which to reconcile with our admi-
ration of Hamlet, the most patient consideration
of his situation is no more than necessary ; they
are what we forgive afterwards, and explain by
the whole of his character, but at the time they
are harsh and unpleasant. Yet such is the actor's
necessity of giving strong blows to the audience,
that I have never seen a player in this character, who
did not exaggerate and strain to the utmost these
ambiguous features, — these temporary deformities
in the character. They make him express a vul-
gar scorn at Polonius which utterly degrades his
gentility, and which no explanation can render
palateable j they make him shew contempt, and
curl up the nose at Ophelia's father, — contempt
in its ^ery grossest and most hateful form 3 but
they get applause by it : it is natural, people
say 3 that is^ the words are scornful, and the
actor expresses scoruj and that they can judge

ON shakspeare's tragedies. 17

of : but why so much scorn, and of that sort,
they never think of asking.

So to Ophelia. — All the Hamlets that I have
ever seen, rant and rave at her as if she had
committed some great crime, and the audience
are highly pleased, because the words of the part
are satirical, and they are enforced by the strong-
est expression of satirical indignation of which
the face and voice are capable. But then, whe-
ther Hamlet is likely to have put on such brutal
appearances to a lady whom he loved so dearly,
is never thought on. The truth is, that in all
such deep affections as had subsisted between
Hamlet and Ophelia, there is a stock of super-
erogatory love, (if I may venture to use the ex-
pression) which in any great grief of heart, es-
pecially where that which preys upon the mind
cannot be communicated, confers a kind of in-
dulgence upon the grieved party to express it-
self, even to its heart's dearest object, in the
language of a temporary alienation j but it is
not alienation, it is a distraction purely, and so
it always makes itself to be felt by that object :
it is not anger, but grief assuming t|ie appear-
ance of anger, — love awkwardly counterfeiting
hate, as sweet countenances when they try to

VOL. II. c

18 ON sharspeare's tragedies.

frown : but such sternness and fierce disgust as
Hamlet is made to shew^ is no counterfeit^ but
the real face of absolute aversion, — of irrecon-
cileable alienation. It may be said he puts on
the madman -, but then he should only so far put
on this counterfeit lunacy as his own real dis-
traction will give him leaver that is, incom-
pletely, imperfectly ; not in that confirmed, prac-
tised way, like a master of his art, or as Dame
Quickly would say, ^^ like one of those harlotry

I mean no disrespect to any actor, but the sort
of pleasure which Shakspeare's plays give in the
acting seems to me not at all to differ from that
which the audience receive from those of other
writers 5 and, they being in themselves essentially
so different from all others, I must conclude that
there is something in the nature of acting which
levels all distinctions. And in fact, who does
not speak indifferently of the Gamester and of
Macbeth as fine stage performances, and praise
the Mrs. Beverley in the same way as the Lady
Macbeth of Mrs. S. ? Belvidera, and Calista,
and Isabella, and Euphrasia, are they less hked
than Imogen, or than Juliet, or than Desdemona ?
Are they not spoken of and remembered in the


same way ? Is iiot the female performer as great
(as they call it) in one as in the other ? Did not
Garrick shine, and was he not ambitious of shin-
ing in every drawling tragedy that his wretched
day produced, — the productions of the Hills and
the Murphys and the Browns, — and shall he

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