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to place himself on the board on which the body is laid. After some
difficulties made, the old man consents to it and does precisely what
Crispin does in the French comedy ; but to give it the greater air of
truth the footman makes the old man strip to his shirt ; the operator

1 London, 1741, a translation from his Reflexions bistoriques et critiques sur les
different the&tres de V Europe (Paris, 1738).

2 A prose comedy in three acts, produced in Paris in 1674 and printed in 1680.
Noel le Breton, Sieur de Hauteroche, its author, was a comedian of the Troupe Royal.



222 A Player-Friend of Hoga rth

comes; chirurgical instruments are brought; he puts himself in
order to begin the Dissection ; the old man cries out and the trick
is discovered.

He who acted the old man executed it to the nicest perfection,
which one could expect in no player who had not forty years' exer-
cise and experience. I was not at all astonished in one respect, but
I was charmed now to find another M. Guerin, 1 that excellent
comedian, Master of the Company at Paris which had the misfor-
tune to lose him in our time. I was mistaken in my opinion that a
whole age could not produce such another, when, in our own time,
I found his match in England, with the same art and with talent as
singular. As he played the part of an old man, I made no manner
of doubt of his being an old comedian, who, instructed by long
experience, and at the same time assisted by the weight of his years,
had performed it so naturally. But how great was my surprise when
I learn'd that he was a young man of about twenty-six ! I could not
believe it, but I own'd that it might be possible ; had he only used a
trembling and broken voice and had only an extreme weakness
possessed his body, because I conceived it possible for a young actor
by the help of art to imitate that debility of nature to such a pitch of
exactness ; but the wrinkles of his face, his sunk eyes, and his loose
and yellow cheeks, the most certain marks of a great old age, were
incontestable proofs against what they said to me. Notwithstanding
all this I was forced to submit to truth, because I knew for certain
that the actor, to fit himself for the part of the old man, spent an hour
in dressing himself, and that with the assistance of several pencils he
disguised his face so nicely, and painted so artificially a part of his
eyebrows and eyelids that at the distance of six paces it was impos-
sible not to be deceived. I was desirous to be a witness of this myself,
but pride hindered me ; so knowing that I must be ashamed, I was
satisfied with a confirmation of it from the other actors. Mademoiselle
Salle, among others who then shone upon that stage, confessed to me,
that the first time she saw him perform she durst not go into a passage
where he was, fearing lest she should throw him down should she
happen to touch him in passing by.

Both Victor and Ireland, in referring to this remarkable
tribute, fix the date of Riccoboni's visit at 17 15, misled
probably to some extent by the Italian actor's statement
regarding Spiller's age, which is absurdly wide of the mark.

1 Guerin d' Estriche (1636-1728), who made his debut in 1672, married Moliere's
widow five years later, and retired in 1717.



A Player-Friend of Hoga rth 223

Jemmy must have been close on thirty-five when his artistry
aroused the admiration of the famous Lelio. The latter first
came to Paris from Parma in May, 1716, when the Italian
comedy was re-established there by the Due D'Orleans as
Regent. ! Apparently his first visit to London was paid in
1727, at a period when Mile. Salle was at the fag-end of her
long engagement at Lincoln's Inn Fields. 2

Exasperated by his infidelities, Mrs. Spiller in 1722 left
her husband for good. His subsequent career was one of
riot and disorder. For a period of two years theatrical annals
have no record of his name. Improvidence soon compelled
him to take refuge in the Mint, where, adapting himself to
his surroundings, he contrived to get up a performance of
The Drummer, realizing some twenty pounds from auditors
as needy as himself. Rising to the occasion, he wrote and
delivered a merry epilogue brimming over with quaint
conceits and topical allusions : —

Odd may it seem, indeed a very joke,

That player should complain of being broke ;

But so it is, I own it void of shame

Since all this worthy circle are the same.

But pardon — I perhaps mistake the matter,

You mayn't have all occasion for Mint water;

Were 't so our fate we need not much deplore,

For men of note have made this tour before.

Since South sea schemes have set the world a-madding

Some topping dons have hither come a-gadding ;

Pall Mall no longer can some sparks delight,

And Covent Garden grows too impolite. 3

After matriculating at the Mint, Spiller took further
degrees in degradation at the Marshalsea, where his wit so
charmed the turnkey that the worthy fellow threw up his
gruesome post and became mine host of " The Bull and
Butcher," in Clare Market, then a region of fashionable riot,
the better to enjoy the droll's society. The butchers of the

1 Le Nouveau Theatre Italien (Paris, 1753), i, avertissement, p. viii.

2 Cf. Emile Dacier, Mademoiselle Salle (Second Edition, 1909), pp. 28-9. As the
fact has escaped M. Dacier, it may be noted here that Mile. Salle and her brother made
their English debuts, when children, at the Italian Opera House in the Haymarket on
8 December, 17 16. See Michael Kelly's Reminiscences (1826), ii, Appendix, p. 347.

3 For a complete copy of the epilogue, see Ireland, op. cit. i. 65.



224 ^ Flayer-Friend of Hoga rth

district were hail-fellow-well-met with the players, and sided
with them in all their frolics. There were high jinks, more-
over, at the weekly club held at " The Bull and Butcher," one
of the members being no less a personage than Hogarth,
who was responsible for the engraving on the silver tankard
handed round at these merry meetings. 1

Early in 1725 Spiller's name crops up again at Lincoln's
Inn Fields. On 1 1 January he appeared as Brainworm in
a revival of Every Man in His Humour. Towards the close
of the year we find him creating Trusty in The Capricious
Lovers. After that he dives once more below the surface,
not to emerge until 29 January, 1728, when he bears his
honours proudly as the original Mat o' the Mint in The
Beggar s Opera. In this characterization, according to Akerby
his panegyrist, " he outdid his usual outdoings to such a
degree that whenever he sang he executed his part with so
truly sweet and harmonious a tone and in so judicious and
ravishing a manner that the audience could not avoid
putting his modesty to the blush by repeated clamours of
encore." From all accounts, it would appear that Spiller
contributed very materially to the success of Gay's famous
opera. Macklin, who was present at the first performance,
has put it on record that the fate of the piece hung in the
balance until the song and chorus, " Let us Take to the
Road," came to be rendered.

For Jemmy's benefit this season Hogarth engraved a
carefully executed ticket, in which the droll is depicted in
the act of selling vouchers of admission for the night, while
angry creditors growl in his ears and hungry-eyed bailiffs
make ominous approach. 2 How sternly realistic all this was
is shown by the fact that in his closing days Spiller seldom
dared venture outside the theatre, where he shared an apart-
ment with the equally thriftless Walker, the original Captain
Macheath. While playing clown in Lewis Theobald's panto-
mime of The Rape of Proserpine, on 3 1 January, 1729, before
the Prince of Wales and other notabilities, Jemmy was seized

1 For a reproduction of the design, see Ireland, i. p. 77.

2 Reproduced in Doran (op. cit., edit Lowe), i. 336. Cf. Ireland, i. 62.



A Player-Friend of Hogarth 22c

with apoplexy, and died in the theatre a week later at the
early age of 37. To the last his bright mother-wit never
forsook him. On being carried up to his room he rallied
somewhat, and recognizing the invalided Walker, with
whom he had had some recent dispute, said to him, "You see,
Tom, I told you I would be even with you before long, and
now I've kept my word. " Manager Rich buried poor Motley
at his own expense, and followed him to his last resting-
place in the churchyard of the parish of St. Clement Danes.
cc By the concurrent desire of an elegant company," who,
according to Akerby, were assembled at the " Bull and
Butcher" over a bowl of arrack punch a few weeks before
Jemmy's death, "and by the generous offer of Mr. Laguerre, 1
who was one of the company, and as excellent a master in
the science of painting as music, the sign was changed from
the 'Bull and Butcher' to the 'Spiller's Head,' and painted
by the said Mr. Laguerre gratis, in a manner and with a
pencil that equals the proudest performance of those who
have acquired the greatest wealth and reputation in the
art of painting." Thus it happened that, like Tarleton of
old, and Joey Grimaldi of later memory, Rich's clown was
paid the honours of public-house apotheosis. It is note-
worthy, however, that the new sign was not put in place until
after Spiller's death, when it bore the following inscription :

View here the wag who did his mirth impart,
With pleasing humour and diverting art ;
A cheerful bowl in which he took delight,
To raise his mirth and pass a winter's night.
Jovial and merry did he end his days
In comic scenes and entertaining plays.

At once a movement was set on foot to have the come-
dian's life written, and a Clare Market butcher made the
following appeal to his fellows :

Down with your marrow-bones and cleavers all,
And on your marrow-bones ye butchers fall !
For prayers from you, who never pray'd before,
Perhaps poor Jemmy may to life restore.

1 Jack. Laguerre, for whom see D. N. B. under "Louis Laguerre", his father.
Q



226 A Player-Friend of Hoga rth

" What have we done ? " the wretched bailiffs cry,
"That th' only man by whom we liv'd should die."
Enrag'd, they gnaw their wax and tear their writs,
While butchers' wives fall in hysteric fits ;
For, sure as they 're alive, poor Spiller 's dead ;
But thanks to Jack Legar we've got his head.
Down with your ready cole, ye jovial tribe,
And for a mezzotinto cut subscribe ;
The markets traverse, and surround the Mint ;
It shall go hard but he shall be in print.

For
He was an inoffensive merry fellow,
When sober hipp'd, blithe as a bird when mellow.

Two modest shilling pamphlets were issued, the one
containing sundry details of Spiller's life, by Akerby, the
painter, and a portrait after Laguerre; the other his "merry
jests, diverting songs and entertaining tales." Spiller's wit
made up in copiousness what it lacked in quality. Of his
alertness, whether drunk or sober, there can be no question.
Even pain did not affect the jocose spirit of the man. Seeing
him worried one day at rehearsal by an exasperating attack
of the toothache, the barber of the theatre offered to remove
the offending molar. "I cannot spare a single tooth now,
friend," replied the sufferer, "but after the ioth of June
[when the season ended] you may have the lot and wel-
come." Although enjoying a salary much above the average,
Jemmy was ever in debt, and was once upbraided for his
improvidence by an Italian prima donna who lived in high
state on an indifferent professional income. " Madame,"
he replied, with a leer and a bow, " unhappily, what renders
you rich keeps me perpetually in want ! "

Poor Jemmy ! What Victor has written might very well
stand for his epitaph. " Spiller shared the general fate, for
years together, of performing all his parts excellently well
in an unfashionable theatre and to thin audiences ; a fate,
I fear, in some respects, he too much merited. He was a
man of an irregular life, and therefore lived neglected ; and
after death was soon forgot."



Garrick's First Appearance as Hamlet



Garrick's First Appearance as Hamlet

To be twenty-five and already a great actor, to have the
world at one's feet, to love and be beloved by a vivacious
and beautiful woman one's associate in art — that, if any-
thing, should surely spell happiness. Such, at any rate, was
the enviable state in which David Garrick found himself at
the period of his first visit to Dublin in June, 1742. To
his travelling companion and lady-love, charming Peggy
Wofrlngton, it was an agreeable home-coming after her
triumphs at Covent Garden ; and even little Davy can hardly
have deemed himself wholly a stranger in a strange land,
seeing that he was Irish on the mother's side. Only a month or
two before Garrick's arrival Handel had given to the world
in Fishamble Street his immortal "Messiah". Never had
Fortune so magnificently preluded a great actor, never was a
public put in so receptive a mood for inspired acting. Dublin
rose nobly to the occasion, and night after night packed the
little theatre in Smock Alley throughout that sultry summer.
It mattered not that fever came — "the Garrick fever", as it
was called by association — and decimated the ranks of play-
lovers. And to think that the chameleon-like genius who
created all this sensation had been scarcely a year upon the
stage ! As in a magic glass he was seen conj uring up in quick
succession the ruthless egoism of Gloster, the racking senile
madness of KingLear, the Scapin-like knaveries of Sharp, the
well-graced affectations of Lord Foppington, the monkey-
tricks of Master Johnny, the humours of Bayes and the
sorrows of Pierre. But the crowning effort was yet to come,
that achievement by which Garrick was to place the keystone
to the arch of his triumphs. During his novitiate (if he can
be truly said to have had any) at Goodman's Fields in
London, he had played the Ghost to Giffard's Hamlet, but
his initial embodiment of the morbidly introspective young
Prince was a treat reserved for playgoers by the Liffey.



230 Garrick! s First Appearance as Hamlet

According to the terms of his agreement with the Smock
Alley managers, Garrick was entitled during his visit to two
benefits. The first had been duly taken on 24 June as King
Lear, and the second was announced for 1 9 July in The Fair
Penitent. But for reasons that will now be made clear the
latter was postponed to 12 August and the bill changed.
Five days before his first appearance in the great testing
character of Hamlet, Faulkner s Dublin Journal published a
paragraph setting forth that

Mr. Garrick thinks it proper to acquaint the town that he did
not take The Fair Penitent (as was given out) for his Benefit ; that
play being disapproved of by several Gentlemen and Ladies, but by
Particular Desire, deferred it till Hamlet could be got ready, which
will be played on Thursday next, the part of Hamlet by Mr. Garrick,
Ophelia by Mrs. Woffington. With Dancing by Signiora Barberina
and Mr. Henry Delamain.

The celebrated danseuse, Barbara Campanini, 1 better
known under her stage name of La Barbarina, had come
over from London (where she had been drawing rank and
fashion to Drury Lane) at the same time as Garrick and
Peg Woffington. A magnificent full-length portrait of her,
by Antoine Pesne, is preserved in the Imperial Palace at
Berlin. 2 Curiously enough, she was not fated to dance at
Smock Alley on the night of Garrick's debut as Hamlet.
The band happened to be labouring under some grievance at
the time, and struck peremptorily at the last moment. Their
absence was not nearly so serious a matter as the sudden
defection of the orchestra would have been on the occasion
of Mr. Martin Harvey's first appearance as Hamlet, 3 when,
as will be readily recalled by Dublin playgoers, an elaborate
symbolic overture and much original incidental music were
provided. A century and a half ago audiences could enjoy
Shakespeare without any such adventitious aids. But the
public in those days were rigorous in demanding that the
full promise of the playbill should be put into execution,

1 For whom, see Emile Dacier, Mademoiselle Salle, pp. 208 seqq. She came to
Paris from Italy in July, 1739.

2 Reproduced by Gaston Vuillier, A History of Dancing (1898), p. 152.

3 An event which took place at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, on 21 Nov., 1904.



Garrick' s First Appearance as Hamlet 231

and thought nothing of tearing up the benches when faith
was not kept. Hence the position was not without its grave
contingencies. On the great Hamlet night, certain dances
had been advertised to be given between the acts as a supple-
mentary attraction, but La Barbarina and her companion
could not be expected to dance without musical accompani-
ment. The occasion was to be one of pomp and grandeur, as
the Lords Justices had signified their intention to be present.
A disturbance on a State night would have been gravely
injurious to the future interests of the theatre. So Garrick
took advantage of his abounding popularity to throw oil
upon the waters before the surface became ruffled. In other
words, he came before the curtain between the acts and
begged the indulgence of the house with regard to the un-
avoidable omission of the dances under the embarrassing
circumstances. The audience was at once propitiated. But
one takes leave to think that the measure of anxiety and
uncertainty which obsessed Garrick at the moment must
have militated against the exercise of his full powers on the
critical occasion. A first night Hamlet under such condi-
tions could not well be without its blemishes. Nevertheless,
as we shall see, Garrick triumphed over all his difficulties.

The extraordinary action of the Smock Alley fiddlers
afforded gossip for the quidnuncs, and remained a nine
days' wonder. In Faulkner s Dublin Journal for 1 6 August,
1742, occurs a curious counter-advertisement throwing
some meagre light on the odd dispute :

Whereas an advertisement was Yesterday published and handed
about the Coffee Houses containing a sort of an Excuse for the
Musick, for their non-attendance at the Playhouse in Smock Alley
on Thursday the 12th of this instant, August, at the play of Hamlet
for Mr. Garrick's benefit. Now being apprehensive that the said
advertisement is calculated to injure the Company of said Theatre in
the opinion of the Town, they therefore think themselves obliged to
inform the Publick that upon Examination of the Playhouse Accompt
books, they find that since the management of the Company has been
committed to the care of the persons now concerned, there is not
one Night's sallery due to the Musick, altho' they insist in their
advertisement that there were four nights ; and they further beg leave



232 Garrick's First Appearance as Hamlet

to say, that being disappointed of Musick on the above night, they
sent to the Band, desiring them to attend as usual, and that whatever
appeared to be justly due to them should the following day be paid;
and tho' two acts of the play were then over, the Person who applied
to them on the company's behalf, offered to pay them down the
money for that night's performance, that the Lords Justices (who
were then in the house) might not be disappointed of the dances
mentioned in the bills. And tho' several of the said band actually
belonged to the Castle and State Musick, yet they peremptorily
refused to come, as did also Mr. John Blackwood, who is an annual
servant to the company, and had in his custody the copies of the
dances etc. And they further take leave to observe that the said
Band carried their ill behaviour so far as to enter into a combination
to intimidate several other Performers from supplying their places,
by threatning that whoever should play in the Musick Room of
said Theatre should never be engag'd or concern'd in any Band or
Concert of Musick with them.

It is noteworthy that "the musick room " was the old term
for the place now known as the orchestra.

Intelligent as was the interest in the drama at this period,
such a feature of the Irish Press as theatrical criticism was
then utterly unknown. The occasion, however, brought
forth the man. Two days after Garrick's first performance
of Hamlet, some scholarly devotee of the drama sent him
an anonymous communication, in which strictures upon
his acting and upon his pronunciation of various words
were mingled with high encouragement and strophes of
enthusiasm. Garrick was sensible enough to profit by the
criticism of his masked admirer, and carefully preserved
the epistle. Ireland's first dramatic critic had posthumous
honours thrust upon him, for his long pronouncement
on "Hamlet" was given to the world some eighty years
later, when Boaden published an ill-arranged selection from
Garrick's correspondence. 1

Dating from Dublin, Saturday, 14 August, 1742, the
critic says :

Sir, — As I am entirely unknown to you, I take the liberty to give
you my opinion upon some few things that I have taken notice of

1 Private Correspondence of David Garrick (1831), i. pp. 12-14.



Garrick's First Appearance as Hamlet 233

in your public performances, most of which I have attended, and do
really think that you will in time, and with a little more experience,
be the best and most extraordinary player that ever these kingdoms
saw. I cannot, therefore, but with regret observe some things that
not only displease me, but I am pretty sure, offend the most judicious
and discerning part of your audience.

He goes on to find fault with Garrick's pronunciation of
certain words, such as "matron," "Israel," "appal" and
"Horatio," and then proceeds :

I went the other night to see you perform the part of Hamlet,
and do indeed think that you got a great deal of deserved applause.
I doubt whether the famous Betterton did the part half so well the
first time he attempted it. The character of Hamlet is no small
test of a man's genius, where the action is inconsiderable, and the
sentiment so prevailing and remarkable through the whole. I own
that upon your first encounter with the ghost, I observed with some
astonishment, that it was a considerable time before you spoke. 1
I beg of you, Sir, to consider that these words —

"Angels and Ministers of grace defend us !"
follow upon the first surprise, and are the immediate effects of it.
I grant you that a little pause after that is highly proper; but to
repeat them at the same time, and in the same tone of voice with
the speech,

" Be thou a spirit of health ", etc.,
is very improper, because they are by no means a part of that speech.
You certainly kept the audience in a strange suspense, many of
whom, I suppose, were afraid, as well as I, that you wanted the
assistance of the prompter. There is one thing that I must mention,
which I think has but a very ridiculous appearance, although it has
been practised by every one that I have seen in that character; and it
is this: — when the Ghost beckons Hamlet to follow him, he, enraged
at Horatio for detaining him, draws his sword, and in that manner
follows the Ghost; presently he returns, Hamlet still following him
sword in hand, till the Ghost says

"I am thy Father's spirit ! "

at which words Hamlet with a very respectful bow, sheaths his
sword ; which is as much as to say, that if he had not been a Ghost
upon whom he could depend, he dared not have ventured to put up

1 This remained a characteristic of Garrick's acting at this juncture (see his Life
by Arthur Murphy, Chap, v 5 also Austin Brereton, Some Famous Hamlets, p. 14).



234 Garrick's First Appearance as Hamlet

his sword. The absurdity of this custom is plain from the nature of
spirits, and from what Marcellus a little before says, that "it is as
the air invulnerable." I think it would be much better if Hamlet
should at these words —

"By Heaven ! I'll make a ghost of him that lets me !"
only put his hand to his sword, and make an attempt to draw it.

The scene between Hamlet and Ophelia, and likewise that with
the Queen, you played so inimitably well, and with such strict
justice, that I never saw anything equal to it in my life ; and indeed
I can almost say the same of the whole character. I do not under-
stand your leaving aside that beautiful part, his directions to the
Players ; and unless it was an unskilful person that was conscious
to himself that he could not keep up to the nicety of his own rules,
I know no reason for it ; but that, I am sure, you need not fear. 1
I wish that, instead of it, you would omit that abominable soliloquy,
that is such a terrible blot and stain to a character, that, were it not
for that, would be complete; I mean that part where Hamlet comes


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Online LibraryWilliam John LawrenceThe Elizabethan playhouse and other studies → online text (page 20 of 22)