« AnteriorContinua »
come them very well while young and fprightly, are how no longer proper for them.
The players of both fexes, we have faid, ought always to remember that on the ftage every thing difgufts us, in a very fenfible manner, which calls to our remembrance the defects and infirmities of human nature; as we never fail of bringing every reflection of this kind home to our felves. In general when a perfon is become, thro' age or other infirmities, an object more fit to excite melancholy and compaffion, than joy and pleasure, the ftage is no longer his proper fcene of action, and he ought wifely to retire. It will appear abfurd that a perfon to whofe time of life the cuftom of the world forbids even the fatisfaction of enjoying, or at leaft of frequently being prefent at public diverfions, fhou'd arrogate the right of being the perpetual Heroe or Heroine of them. Indeed nothing lefs than fome fingular and inimitable excellency, can make us bear with a performer, whofe decays in perfon, voice and features remind us continually of the fate that attends ourfelves.
The gratitude and juftice of the world have made it a general rule, that those persons who have deserved the greatest applause on the stage in their earlier life, fhou'd be received longer on it in their advanced years than others: The world is generous to them in this; and they ought to be equally grateful to the public in remembring that they owe to the applaufes and favours they have before received, the continuance of their reception in the fame capacity fo long as it fhall be found agreeable or welcome; or till they fee themselves replac'd by other rifing players, who
are able to join thofe advantages, which themfelves now have no longer, to thofe which they yet retain.
When we find that it is neither with a view to fordid intereft, nor out of a foolish felf-fufficiency and prefumption, that performers continue among a company with whom they us'd to fhare the utmost praifes, we are to regard them as worthy veterans, grown old in our fervice, and ftill attempting to administer to our entertainment; we have no right, in this cafe, to impute to them the injuries of nature; but if we on any occafion take their age into our remembrance, it ought to be only to lament that people, who of all others ought to have enjoy'd a lafting youth, are not exempted from the common laws of nature, but muft fubmit to grow old and feeble as well as other men.
Men may continue the profeffion of playing to an advanced age much better than women. The reason is evident, that as this more robust sex bears the attacks of age much better than the other, it also prefents it to our view in a lefs afflicting and lefs difagreeable manner. The French stage will long remember the favourites of three ages, Baron and Guerin, who after seeing every body grow old about them, far from being born down by the burthen of years themfelves, continu'd to merit the applause of the greatest judges, by retaining all that life and spirit, by which they had firft obtain'd it, and which the younger people, tho' of confiderable merit, found it very difficult to come up to.
We remember Bowman, who at a time of life twenty years beyond that at which the gene
rality of players become difagreeable to us, cou'd give fuch force to the character of Raymond in the Spanish Fryar, that the house never fail'd to ring with a long applaufe, when he declar'd to his fuppos'd fon, his contempt of the statesmen of the times, and told him they were
A council made of fuch as cou'd not speak,
Banish'd themselves for fhame of being there;
And we never fhall forget Johnson, who in comedy not only pleas'd, but excell'd to the very laft; who at an age more than equal to that of Bowman, never appear'd upon the stage, without being the greateft player on it; and who has left us to feek, what we fhall perhaps never find, a good Coupler, a good Smugler, and a good hundred other things, which ceas'd to be any thing with us, when he ceas'd to play them.
The lift of Veterans for this age ought not to be clos'd without mentioning the favourite Leve ridge, who, tho' his province was only finging, ought to be remember'd for ever, for pleafing us at least as well as he did our Fathers and our Grandfathers.
What the audience has a right to demand of thofe actors who are authoriz'd by the fuperiority of their talents, to continue upon the stage after a time of life, when it would be decent for others to quit it, is, that they have fo much prudence, that while their interest in the company may give them a power of choofing for themselves what parts they pleafe, they take only thofe,
which fuit with that period of life they are at this time arriv'd at. This is a caution which, (tho' it wants not its weight with respect to the men,) ought chiefly to be regarded by the women. A well made man may poffibly be decently gay at threescore, but the wrinkled face of a woman, address'd with all the flattery the poet cou'd beftow on fomething that he meant to describe as little lefs beautiful than an angel, is an abfurdity too glaring to go down with the meaneft fpectator.
Baron, the most eminent of the two French players juft mention'd, tho' of the more proper fex for fuch an attempt, notwithstanding all his merit, was never able to make the audience relish the inclination he had to be playing the parts of young Princes and Heroes at the latter end of his life: The audiences, tho' they lov'd and esteem'd the man extremely, cou'd not have patience at hearing him call'd Son and Child by people to whom, by his age, he might have been grandfather.
Of the Advantages in which it is requifite that thofe Players, who play the capital Parts, Thou'd be fuperior to those who perform the fubordinate Characters.
HOSE performers who in comedy have the capital parts affign'd them, and whose polite addrefs and spirited action is expected to enliven and fupport the reprefentation; and thofe who in tragedy are ufually employ'd to play the characters of perfons worthy of our admiration for their virtues, or of our compaffion for their misfortunes; and we may add those who either in comedy or tragedy have the parts of lovers. ought to be indowed with a great many natural advantages, befides thofe neceffary to players in general, and which may be difpenfed with in those who are employed only in fubordinate characters.
The advantages neceffary to persons in this higher rank in the theatre are of two kinds. Some are wholly exterior, fome entirely interior. The latter of these affect the understandings of the spectators; the former only ftrike their fenfes : The interior ones will make the fubject of the first section of this book, the exterior of the fecond.