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Moliere at the court of the Grand Monarch. The only real
difference was that Jonson as masque-writer was helpless
without his gorgeous scenery, whereas Moliere's court
comedies could on occasion stand alone.

It remains to be noted that Versailles at this period lacked
possession of a permanent theatre, a difficulty which Vigarani
easily surmounted (thanks to his royal master's fat purse)
by erecting provisional stages as the occasion demanded.
Very ornate and striking was the theatre constructed by him
in the Park in 1668 for the production of George Dandin
and he Triompbe de V Amour et de Bacchus. The sallewaslit
by no fewer than thirty-two crystal chandeliers, which bore
in all considerably over three hundred bougies and provided
a dazzling spectacle. 3

1 Bapst, p. 390, note i. The warrant was issued on 5 November, 1679.

2 Celler, pp. 133-5.

3 Bapst, p. 352; Celler, pp. 135-9. For Carlo Vigarani's work, at Versailles in
connexion with the fetes of 1674, see Felibien, Les Divertissements de Versailles, donnezpar
le Roy a toute sa Cour, au retour de la Conqueste de la Francbe Comte^ en V annee, 1 674, p. 85.



Louis XIV 's Scene Painters



209



In the mellow days of Le So/eil, performances in the Salle
des Machines were few and far between, the vast auditorium
having proved far from comfortable. There, however, was
produced in 1671, with sumptuous mounting by Vigarani,
the Psyche of Moliere and Corneille, a piece, as we have
already noted, which owed its origin to the existence of an
old Hell scene, stored away in the recesses of the Tuileries.
It was in keeping that when Psyche was revived at the Palais
Royal in 1678, Vigarani should again be responsible for its
mounting. One recalls that a maquette^ or scene-model, of
the second tableau of the second act, after Carlo's original
design (now in the National Archives), was to be seen in the
theatrical section at the Paris Exposition of 1 8 7 8 } Vigarani's
scenic and mechanical work was not without its influence
on the trend of English stage mounting in the Post-Restora-
tion period. Shadwell not only adapted Psyche for the Duke's
Theatre, but he made use of divers of the Italian's fantastic
flying effects in his operatic perversion of The Tempest.
With pardonable pride the Duke's players boasted in their
epilogues that they had indulged their kind friends, the
public, with a degree of scenic splendour only possible else-
where to great monarchs with unfathomable purses. 2

Little employed in the days of Louis XIV, the great Salle
des Machines has a curious and, on the whole, disappointing
history. Its memories survive in those technicalities of the
coulisses, "cour " and "jardin ", readily recognizable as the
Gallic analogues of our " O. P." and " P. S." 3 Built origin-
ally to excite artificial emotion, this immense barrack of a
theatre was the scene of many a realistic outburst in the
stormy days of the Revolution. Before that, however, it
had undergone a remarkable temporary transformation,
the details of which afford some clue to the immensity of
the building. When the Palais Royal was burnt down in
1763, permission was given to its former occupants to
remove, during the period of rebuilding, to the vast house

1 Catalogue de V Exposition Theatrale y 1878, anon, (par Charles Nuitter), No. xx,
p. 25.

3 See especially the epilogue to Shadwell's Psyche.
3 Georges Moynet, Trues et Decors, p. 26.

P



210 Louis XIV s Scene Painters

in the Tuileries. It hardly seems credible, but the story goes
that the two architects employed succeeded in constructing
an entire theatre the exact size of the old Palais Royal wholly
on the stage of the Salle des Machines. The old auditorium,
it appears, was partitioned off, and used as a magazine for
scenery and properties. 1

At the time of the foundation of the Academie Royale de
Musique, Lully, the composer, had solemnly joined forces
with Carlo Vigarani by a contract dated 23 August, 1672,
but it is to be presumed that the architect-painter had
already set about building the new Opera House in the rue
de Vaugirard, where the Academie was to have its establish-
ment. 2 This surmise is justified by the fact that the new
house opened its doors on the ensuing 15 November with
a pasticchio called Les Festes de V Amour et de Bacchus, for
which Vigarani had provided the mounting. To the story
of this theatre is attached a notable event, nothing less
than the first state visit of a French monarch to a resort
of the kind. Accompanied by a distinguished train, Louis
XIV repaired on 27 April, 1675, to the rue de Vaugirard
to see the Cadmus et Hermione of Quinault, that fine work
which, according to the Gazette de France, was embellished
"avec des machines et des decorations surprenantes dont
on doit l'invention et la conduite au sieur Vigarani, gentil-
homme Modenois." 3

To the methods of scene painting in the latter half of the
seventeenth century one is afforded some clue in the details
of the work done in connexion with the production of Le
Malade Imaginaire at Versailles in 1 674. For the premiere
of Moliere's last comedy the scenery was painted by Simon
and Rambour, two French artists who worked under the
direction of Vigarani. Canvas was not favoured in those
days, for the architectural backgrounds provided for the
play were painted on paper which had been glued upon
wooden frames. 4 This was distinctively an Italian system,
and Italy has not yet wholly abandoned it. One recalls
that when the Ruy Bias of Marchetti was performed at Her

1 Pougin, p. 63. 2 Nuittcr ct Thoinan, pp. ?.8o-4. 3 ibid. p. 289. 4 Bapst, p. 391.



Louis XIV s Scene Painters in

Majesty's Theatre in November, 1877, the scenery was
painted in Italy on sheets of paper by Magnani and sent
over to be mounted on canvas. The effect was said at the
time to be very pleasing. 1

To enumerate all the various labours of the younger
Vip-arani would be to give this sketch the air of a bald cata-
logue, but one must not omit to record that he executed
the scenery for the opera of Atys^ produced at the Palais
Royal in 1676. His original design for the scene of the
fifth act is preserved in the Mobilier National, and from it
in 1878 was made, on the instruction of the Ministry of
the Fine Arts, a second maquette for the theatrical section
of the Paris Exposition of that year. 2

In or about 1 679 Carlo Vigarani constructed for the King,
in the Gardens of Versailles, an ingenious Water Theatre
admitting of a great variety of striking aqueous effects ;
its characteristics have been preserved in an engraving by
Israel Sylvestre. Not long afterwards he was temporarily
ousted from his pride of place at the Palais Royal, where
Berain succeeded him as designer and Rivani as machinist. 3
It is difficult to say exactly when he was reinstalled, but
a record of the year 1 707 shows that at that period "le sieur
Vigarany, machiniste de l'Opera" was in receipt of a salary
of 6,000 livres per annum in his several capacities as inventor
and superintendent of the machines of the theatres and the
court. Not only that, but he enjoyed a third of the profits
of the Opera, and must have held altogether a position of
great emolument. 4

Possibly had portraits of the two Vigaranis been preserved
among other French theatrical memorabilia, the historians
might not have made such a painful jumble of their records.
But no portrait of either is known — and thereby hangs a
tale. Some thirty-five years or so ago, when Charles Gamier
was building that striking monument to his genius, The
Grand Opera, his scheme of decoration included statuary.

1 Percy Fitzgerald, The World Behind the Scenes (1881), p. 258.

2 Catalogue de V Exposition Tbeatrale, No. xix, p. 25.

3 Chouquet (Gustave), Histoire de la Musique Dramatique en France (1873), p. 320.

4 M. J. Moynet, U En-vers du Theatre (1874), p. 279.



212 Louis XIV s Scene Painters

What more fitting subject for the chisel, thought he, than
the Grand Monarque's scene-painter, the great Vigarani ?
True, like all the rest of his race in his day, he knew of only
one Vigarani, that composite being whom Clio, in a perverse
hour, had blundered into creating. Still we must remember
that it was Moliere and Lully's sublime artificer whom
Gamier really had in his mind's eye. To Charles Nuitter,
the erudite archivist of the Opera, he made application for
a portrait of this genius, but none could be found. To get
out of the difficulty Nuitter suggested — still confusing the
two Vigaranis — that an ideal bust should be made, and that
the sculptor should be instructed to bear in mind that his
subject was an Italian of a peevish and narrow-minded
disposition. He justified this description by the fact that
(Gaspare) Vigarani had destroyed all the scenic work of his
predecessor at the French court. The idea commended
itself to Gamier and was carried out. 1 In this quaint way
were the sins of the father visited on the son.

1 Bapst, p. 390, note I.



A Player-Friend of Hogarth



A Player-Friend of Hogarth

Jemmy Spiller was born in 1692. His father, a Gloucester-
shire carrier, falling heir to a little money, apprenticed him
to Mr. Ross, a landscape painter, under whom he acquired
an elementary knowledge of art which afterwards stood him
in good stead in "making-up". Becoming stage-struck
after witnessing the atrocious efforts of a company of
strollers, the headstrong lad broke his indentures and
packed off with the player- folk. Like many another bril-
liant comedian, he made but ill estimate of his powers, and
was highly delighted on finding himself permitted by his
companions to murder Alexander the Great and divers
other heroic characters. Chance, however, soon took him
to the metropolis, where his abilities were at once recognized
and speedily diverted into the proper channel. Our first
trace of him in the player's Mecca is at Drury Lane on 27
December, 1709, when we find him playing Harlequin (an
ordinary speaking part) in Mrs. Behn's farce of The Emperor
of the Moon. His was an instance of an early marriage un-
happy in its sequel. Shortly after his debut in the metropolis
he espoused one Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson, characterized
as " a pretty woman and a good actress, but rather vain and
affected." At Drury Lane on 27 March, 17 10, Mr. and
Mrs. Spiller figured in the bill as Boatswain and Lucy in
Bickers taffe 's Burial; or Work for the Upholders. Already
authors had begun to see the utility of writing parts to ex-
ploit the young actor's rich vein of humour. One of these
— Corporal Cuttum in Aaron Hill's farce, The Walking
Statue — had been created by him on 9 January previously.
Like most of the principal comedians of his time, Spiller
was prominently identified with the annual performances
given in the theatrical booths at the fairs. In the summer
of 17 10 we find him appearing at Pinkethman's Booth at
Greenwich, where he sustained, among other characters,
Polonius and Bustapha in The Maid of the Mill, and became



2 1 6 A Player-Friend of Hogarth

so popular as to be accorded a benefit. During 17 12-3 he
"created" several new characters at Drury Lane, notably
Ananias in Hamilton's Petticoat Plotter, Smart in The Female
Advocates, and Lawyer Foist in The Apparition. Late in
1 7 14 he deserted old Drury for Rich's new theatre in
Lincoln's Inn Fields, where he soon became quite indis-
pensable. Among a great variety of parts sustained there
during the following year were several original "creations",
such as Crispin in The Perplexed Couple, Captain Debonair
in Love in a Sack, and Merlin in The Lucky Prodigal.

It would appear that the new playhouse was not too well
patronized at the outset, and that salaries were not always
paid with the regularity desirable. Spiller being at rehearsal
on a Saturday morning, what time the ghost was usually
expected to walk, asked a comrade-at-arms if Mr. Wood,
the treasurer, had gone his rounds. " No, faith, Jemmy,"
replied the other, " I'm afraid there's no cole " (a cant word
for money). " By God ! " said Spiller, " if there's no cole we
must burn Wood."

Taking a leaf out of Aaron Hill's book, one or two of
Rich's resourceful hacks bethought them of writing parts to
act as setting for the brilliant lustre of Spiller's talent. In
Bullock's A Woman s Revenge ; or a Match in Newgate, first
produced on 24 October, 17 15, the adaptive actor-author
had fashioned two roles (Tom and Padwell) to be doubled by
his genial fellow-comedian. Afterwards, when publishing his
play, he dedicated it to the wit in the following droll style :

To my merry friend and brother comedian, Mr. James Spiller.

Dear Jemmy — My choice of you for a patron will acquit me of
those detestable characters, which most of our modern authors are
obnoxious to, from their fulsome dedication — I mean a mercenary
and a flatterer. My prefixing your name to these sheets will clear
me of the former, and there is no fear of incurring the scandal of
the latter, since the greatest encomiums which my humble pen could
draw out, come far short of your just praise. I could expatiate on
your many excellent virtues, your chastity, your temperance, your
generosity, your exemplary piety, and your judicious and fashionable
management in your conjugal affairs; but since I am as well



A Player-Friend of Hogarth 217

acquainted with your aversion to reading I shall content myself
with mentioning the many obligations I have to you, particularly
for your good performance in this farce, especially in your last part ;
I mean that of Padwell ; in which you was a shining ornament to
the scene of Newgate ; and you must not think I flatter you, when
I tell you, you have a natural impudence proper to the character and
become your fetters as well as any that ever wore them. And I am
sorry I could not, without giving offence to the critics, and deviating
too far from the rules of comedy, bring you to Tyburn for the
better diversion of the audience ; but I hope you are satisfied with
my good wishes and will give me leave to subscribe myself

Your Obliged, Humble Servant,

Christopher Bullock.

The sharpness of the rivalry between the two patent
theatres has amusing illustration in a quaint anecdote told
ofSpiller in connexion with this period. Nothing if not bibu-
lous, Rich's easy-going henchman engaged in a drinking
bout at the Gun Tavern, Billingsgate, with Pinkethman of
Drury Lane, and, being endowed with more staying power,
outlasted his old-time associate. No sooner had the potency
of the liquor rendered poor Pinky " o'er all the ills of life
victorious," than his adroit antagonist went through his
pockets and took therefrom the part of the "Cooler of
Preston," in a farce so called, which the abnormally obese
Charles Johnson had written for Drury Lane. Jemmy
carried the spoils of war to his friend Christopher Bullock,
who set to work on a Friday to construct a rival piece on
the expede Herculem principle : the fundamental idea in both
being obviously that of Shakespeare's £C Sly, the Tinker." 1
On Saturday night the farce was completed and put forth-
with into rehearsal, with the result that its production took
place on the following Tuesday, 24 January, 17 16, with
Spiller as Toby Guzzle. This quite took the wind out of
old Drury's sails, as the original " Cobler " failed to make its
appearance for several days after, when the effect was that of
a damp squib. A propos, Samuel Ireland, the Hogarthian
commentator, in speaking ofSpiller, says : —

1 Samuel Ireland, Graphic Illustrations ofHogarth,\. (1794)^.64. This book is not to be
confused with John Ireland's Hogarth Illustrated, a work published about the same period.



2 1 8 A Player-Friend of Hogarth

I have seen a well-engraved ticket for his benefit, which had for
its supporters, himself on one side, and his wife on the other, both
in a state of intoxication. In this ticket the name of Spiller was spelt
with an <z diphthong; a whimsical conceit which seems to have
arisen from his name being sometimes spelt with an e and at others
with an a. Thus, whatever was the orthography, it was sure to be
in the right. 1

Ireland errs very flagrantly in assuming that the features
of this benefit ticket afford another illustration of Spiller's
audacious habit of flaunting his vices before the public. So
far from being depicted in their private capacities, the actor
and actress were here represented in the parts played by
them in The Cobler of Preston !

On 21 April, 171 6, we find Spiller, for Shaw's benefit,
speaking an epilogue " after the approved manner of
Pinkethman," seated on an ass. 2 A curious commentary,
this, on the taste of the times ! Later on in the year we learn
of him as Bottom in Leveridge's comic masque of Pyramus
and Thisbe and as Aspin in Woman s a Riddle. A noteworthy
production at Lincoln's Inn Fields was that of Taverner's
comedy, The Artful Husband^ which first saw the light on
1 2 February, 1 7 1 7, and was played fifteen times during the
season. 3 In Stockwell, Spiller had a part of no very great
importance, but the exquisite finish of his rendering gained
him one of the finest compliments ever paid to an actor.
Victor relates that on the first night the comedian's "Patron
and Admirer, the late Duke of Argyle, went to see the
comedy; but his attention was entirely engrossed by a new
actor, as his Grace then thought him, and to so great a degree
that the Duke recommended him that night behind the
scenes to Mr. Rich as a young actor of merit, and one that
deserved his Encouragement." 4 The matter-of-fact Genest

1 op. cit. i. 71.

2 The notorious ass-epilogue was first spoken by Dogget as Sancho Panza after
D'Urfey's Comical History of Don Quixote, Pt i., at Dorset Gardens, in May, 1 694. Subse-
quently it became the dubious heirloom of Jo. Haines, Pinkethman, and other low
comedians. See The Eliz. Playhouse and other Studies (First Series), p. 169, illustration.

3 It was revived in 1720, when Spiller spoke a new epilogue by Lewis Theobald
dealing with the South Sea Bubble. For copy, see the fourth edition of the play
(8vo, 1735).

4 Victor's History of the Theatres of London and Dublin, ii. 69.



A Player-Friend of Hogarth 219

has thrown doubts on the credibility of this story, but Dr.
Doran, by recalling an analogous experience of his own in
connexion with Lafont, has shown that the incident is quite
within the regions of possibility. l Happily, as we shall see
anon, Victor's testimony concerning Spiller's unrivalled
powers of personification is amply corroborated.

Not quite so agreeable, by the way, was Jemmy's experi-
ence with another Duke — his Grace of Wharton. Happen-
ing to be present one night in a tavern when this dissolute
nobleman compelled his companions, in a drunken freak,
to take off a garment with the toasting of each health, he
divested himself of peruke, waistcoat, and coat with great
equanimity. Further than that he confessed his inability to
go, having, as he rather shamefacedly acknowledged, quite
forgotten to put on his shirt ! 2

Among the attractions advertised for Mr. and Mrs.
Spiller's benefit on 13 April, 17 17, was a "New Comi-
Tragi-Mechanical Prologue in the gay style," written and
to be spoken by the facetious Jemmy himself. At Pinketh-
man and Pack's booth at Southwark Fair in the September
following, we find him figuring as Trusty in a new Droll,
entitled Twice Married and a Maid Still. At Lincoln's Inn
Fields in December was produced Bullock's original farce.
The Perjurer — a coarse satire on country justices for the
penance undergone at their hands by luckless barn-
stormers. Spiller played Spoilem, a stroller, and spoke a
prologue containing the significant line :

In these short scenes my character is shown.

During 171 8-9 Jemmy created several important new
characters, notably Periwinkle in A Bold Stroke for a Wife,
Ranger in The Coquet, Jerry in The Younger Brother ', Prate in
'Tis Well If It Takes, and Captain Hackit in Kensington
Gardens. Rich's company was woefully inadequate for the
general requirements, and very often the square peg found
itself in the round hole. It was thus with poor Spiller on 7
January, 1720, when only his strong powers of personifica-

1 Doran's Their Majesties' Servants (edited by R. W. Lowe, 1888), i. 344.

2 Ireland, op. cit. i. 70.



220 A Player-Friend of Hogarth

tion kept him from making ludicrous the gloomy role of
Jachimo in a mysterious Shakespearean sophistication called
Cymbeline^ or the Fatal Wager. Later in the month he was
the original Philip in Whig and Tory.

Possibly few comedians at any period ever took greater
liberties with their public, or presumed more on their
popularity, than the subject of this sketch. For his benefit on
the ensuing 3 1 March Spiller issued the following topical
advertisement :

For the Entertainment of Robinson Crusoe. A collection of
farces after the English manner, viz., Walking Statue, Hob or
Country Wake, and Cobler of Preston. And whereas I, James
Spiller, of Gloucestershire, having received an invitation from
Hildebrand Bullock, of Liquor-pond Street, London, to exercise
the usual weapons of the noble science of defence, will not fail to
meet this bold invader, desiring a full stage, blunt weapons, and
from him much favour.

' In the thirteenth number of The Anti-Theatre ^ issued two
days before the benefit, a letter is printed from Spiller to
the editor —

I have a great desire to engage you to be my friend, and recom-
mend me to the town; and, therefore, I take the liberty to inform
you that on next Thursday will be acted, for the benefit of myself and
creditors^ a collection of Farces, after the English manner ; and as
I am a curious observer of nature, and can see as much with one
eye as others do with both, I think I have found out what will
please the multitude. ... I have tolerable good luck, and tickets
rise apace, which makes mankind very civil to me; for I get up every
morning to a levee of at least a dozen people, who pay their compli-
ments, and ask the same question: " When they shall be paid?"
All that I can say is thatwicked good company have brought me into
this imitation of grandeur. I loved my friend and my jest too well
to grow rich ; in short, wit is my blind side ; and so I remain, Sec.

It is not known under what circumstances Spiller was
deprived of an eye — a loss to which he here makes sportive
allusion. Happily, owing to the dim stage lighting of the
period, the blemish did not affect his capacity for Protean
disguise. By his benefit he realized some ^107, but instead
of paying his creditors, he made offto Dublin, where, mixing



A Mayer-Friend of Hogarth 221

himself up in dubious company, he was robbed of almost
every farthing he possessed. Scrambling back to London,
he was received with open arms by Rich, and was at once
re-engaged at a salary of £4 per week. He returned just in
time to take part in the memorable revival of The Merry
Wives of Windsor (22 October, 1720), in which Quin
achieved sudden distinction by his unexpected exhibition,
as Falstaff, of rare comedy powers. In discussing this revival,
Davies gives an incorrect cast — a blunder which has been
rectified by the laborious Genest. To Spiller the former
assigns Dr. Caius, the latter Pistol.

On 19 January, 1721, Jemmy created the part of Snap,
a stock-jobber, in a skit on commercial gambling, entitled
The Chimera. On 24 April following we find him playing
Crispin the Sham Doctor in the farce of The Anatomist — a
condensed and considerably altered version of Ravenscroft's
old comedy so called. It is to this personation that the cele-
brated Italian actor-author, Luigi Riccoboni, refers in the
following citation from his "Historical and Critical Account
of the Theatres in Europe" 1 : —

At the Theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields I happened to be at the
actingofa comedy the principal plot of which I was a stranger to, but
with ease could understand an episode which the author without
doubt had placed in the intrigue ; it is that scene which we have so
often seen in the Crispin Median. 2 The sole alteration that is made
therein is the introducing an old man in the Place of a Footman,
who by his bustle excites the laughter of the audience, while he
places himself in the room of a dead body which the physician is to
dissect. The scene was thus disposed ; the amorous old gentleman
entertains himself with a footman belonging to his mistress's house ;
the footman either hears, or pretends to hear a noise, and desires the
old fellow to hide himself; all the doors being locked, he advises him


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Online LibraryWilliam John LawrenceThe Elizabethan playhouse and other studies → online text (page 19 of 22)