Imatges de pÓgina

may become extremely honourable; nor is it necessary, to advance our argument. It would not, however, be less improper for the chambermaid of a private gentleman to presume to determine what dramatic works might be admitted into the library of her master, or read by his family, than for the corresponding domestic in his Majesty's household, however illustrious he may be by birth and in rank, to decide preremptorily what pieces are to be represented for the amusement of his Majesty's loving subjects, the free people of the British commonwealth. It is certain that the Greek dramas were not licensed; we know, however, that the Spanish were, but not by the king's bed-maker, or by the chamberlain for the time being, but by a learned body-by some convent of Dominicans. We do not look upon the government of Spain as very free; we arrogate to ourselves some advantages on the side of liberty over the Spaniards at least; but our theatre is more confined. They were subject only to the censure of learning: however illiberal it may have been, it was still learning; it was therefore of necessity under some restraints. That it might be consistent with itself, it must have laid down some rules for its own guidance; and a sensible writer could understand, that whatever was not hostile to the government or the church would pass but ignorance and caprice have no bounds, and it is impossible for the most judicious, or the most practised author, to foresee the result, where chance alone is to decide. In this respect, therefore, we are slaves, even in comparison with the Spaniards. It may be urged, that it is nevertheless possible that a Lord Chamberlain may be a competent judge of such matters. He may be, without doubt, and we have all the advantage of that possibility : he may even be conscious of his own inability, and may appoint a fit person as his deputy; he may always abide by and confirm his report, and the examination is of course always in fact executed by a substitute : but we must not forget, that it is impossible for one, who is himself incompetent to decide, to choose another well qualified to decide for him, for he is not able to judge of his qualifications; we have, however, the chance of his lordship's falling accidentally upon the right person. The very few writers, who are capable of producing dramatic pieces of real excellence, unfortunately estimate these chances so low, that, in the conscious pride of talent, they are unwilling to expose their works to such hazards. Good plays were frequently produced formerly; but it is now many years since a tolerable one appeared. We have had a few successful farces, in which coarse jests and extravagant peculiarities of character have excited laughter, chiefly because the most striking passages were well adapted to display the buffoonery of some favourite actor in the lower departments of comedy. It is long since a regular comedy of real merit was presented; and the few tragedies that have enjoyed even a partial success, have been remarkable only for insipidity, or extravagance, or sometimes for both. The authority of the Lord Chamberlain seems to have originated in the notion (it may be termed a fiction of theatrical law), that every theatre is part of the royal palace. But notwithstanding this reverend falsehood, it would be much better to allow liberty of the stage, on the same footing as liberty of the press; for a free people, it is self-evident, have a right to demand it. Let there be no censorship, but let the proprietors and managers of theatres be responsible in the same manner, and subject to the same suits and prosecutions, whether public or private, as publishers of newspapers and other works. Let them,


in short, represent whatever they please at their own peril, and at the risk of being punished, if found guilty by a jury. The proprietors of a theatre must of necessity be known, and will most probably be responsible persons. Sermons and discourses, delivered in chapels, are not perused and licensed by any of the household; yet no inconveniences ensue from the omission, although whatever is uttered from the pulpit falls with a certain air of authority. What would be the value of our national literature, if every work were to be licensed by the Lord Chamberlain, or his Deputy, and the law were enforced as strictly as it is in theatrical pieces? Would it amount to more than that part of some newspapers, which bears the imposing title of the Mirror of Fashion?" If our playhouses are subjected to this control, for the good of the state, why are other public amusements exempt? Why are not the paintings in an exhibition licensed, or the horses at public races? The decision that a bay, or a brown horse, might start, but that grey or chestnut are immoral colours, and that mares are of a misleading sex, would scarcely be more capricious than some of the regulations respecting the drama. By what singular good fortune are our private amusements unmolested? How are we free from an ordinance, proclaiming that a loyal subject may play at backgammon, but chess is dangerous to our allegiance, and injurious to church and state, for it induces a familiarity with kings, queens, and bishops, which, if it be not checked in time, may generate contempt? But to speak seriously, the question of the expediency of theatrical censorship is of so much importance, that it is worthy to be treated more fully on another occasion, or in another place.

Dramatic representations were formerly given, not only in Greece and Rome, but in England also, in the daytime, and in the open air. "The Globe, Fortune, and Bull, were large houses, and partly open to the weather, and there they always acted by daylight;" and plays were first acted in Spain in the open courts of great houses, which were sometimes covered, in whole or in part, with an awning to keep off the sun. The word sale, which is used as a stage direction, meaning not exit, but he enters, i. e. he comes out of the house into the open air, is an evidence of the old practice. We are inclined to think that the morning is more favourable to dramatic excellence than the evening. The daylight accords with the truth and sobriety of nature, and it is the season of cool judgment: the gilded, the painted, the tawdry, the meretricious-spangles and tinsel, and tarnished and glittering trumpery-demand the glare of candlelight and the shades of night. It is certain that the best pieces were written for the day; and it is probable that the best actors were those who performed whilst the sun was above the horizon. The childish trash which now occupies so large a portion of the public attention could not, it is evident, keep possession of the stage, if it were to be presented, not at ten o'clock at night, but twelve hours earlier: much would need to be changed in the dresses, scenery, and decorations, and in many other respects, in the pieces, the solid merits of which would be able to undergo the severe ordeal; and if we consider what changes would be required to adapt them to the altered hours, we shall find that they will be all in favour of good taste, and on the side of nature and simplicity. The day is a holy thing; Homer aptly calls it ispov huap, and it still retains something of the sacred simplicity of ancient times. It is, at all events, less sophisticated and polluted than the modern night; a period which is not devoted to wholesome sleep, but to

various constraints and sufferings, called, in bitter mockery, Pleasure. The late evening, being a modern invention, is therefore devoted to fashion; to recur to the simple and pure in theatricals, it would probably be necessary to effect an escape from a period of time, which has never been employed in the full integrity of tasteful elegance, and thus to break the spell by which the whole realm of fancy has long been bewitched. An absurd and inconvenient practice, which is almost peculiar to this country, of attending public places in that uncomfortable condition which is technically called being dressed, but which is in truth, especially in females, being more or less naked and undressed, might more easily be dispensed with by day, and on that account, and for many other reasons, it would be less difficult to return home.

It is true that, in order to enable the mass of mankind to visit places of `amusement by daylight, the salutary notion that was held by our forefathers, but has unhappily been long exploded, must be revived, that it is possible for the sun to be above the horizon, and yet for man not to be at work. That inestimable institution of the olden time, the holiday, must be restored. If Sunday were abolished, it is manifest that not another pound of sugar, not another ounce of tea, not another nutmeg, not another fig, would be sold; at present, people purchase all they want of these articles, and have the means of paying for them; fewer groceries would be bought on week days, and these would be purchased on Sundays; the grocers, therefore, would have one-seventh part more trouble, and not one farthing more profit. In like manner, if, by an agreement amongst themselves, or by a statute, the shops of grocers were shut on one other day in every month, fortnight, or week, as much of their wares would be sold as ever; the business that would have been transacted on the new holiday, would be done on one of the remaining days; some ease would be gained, and no custom lost, by the whole company; and so would it be with all shopkeepers, and with many other classes of trades,-with more than any one would suppose, who does not enumerate them. It is no inconvenience to the public that nutmegs and pepper cannot be procured on a Sunday; nor would it be if the same disability was extended to Wednesday. It would, however, be very incommodious if there were only one day in the year on which spices could be transferred. This is the rationale of


In occupations where the constant unremitting labour of the hands is required, it is somewhat different. Whilst the saw and the shuttle are still, the gains of the joiner and weaver stop also; but if there be an adequate motive for vigorous exertions, every one must have observed, that in mechanical arts, although it may not be possible to put the labour of a month into a week, it is very easy to do the work of ten days in nine. A holiday that has been spent in an agreeable and rational manner, has an invigorating effect, and the anticipated holiday is still more animating; besides, unceasing toil is injurious, and an excess in labour, like all other excesses, is mischievous, and destroys the power of labouring. It has been conjectured, with some probability, that if Sunday were applied to the same uses as the remainder of the week, the quantity of work that would be performed would, on the whole, be rather diminished than augmented. Our domestic animals require rest; a sensible man who employs horses in daily work, keeps a few supernumeraries, that he may be able to give an occasional holiday to his cattle. If this respite be necessary for creatures

unincumbered with mind, it is still more so for rational beings. The proverb says truly, "That constant work makes a boy dull;" and it is the quality of dulness which is generated by toil unmitigated by rest and recreation; those faculties that ought to be sharpened to the utmost are blunted, and there is a partial death of the finer and more valuable powers: by injudiciously exacting too much, a race of intelligent servants may be converted into stupid slaves. It is not unlikely that the drama would be more successful if it were conducted more plainly, and in a less costly style. The perfection of the machinery and scenery of the modern theatres seems to be unfavourable to the goodness of composition and acting; since the accessaries are so excellent, the opinion is encouraged, that the principals are less important, and may be neglected with impunity, The effect of good scenery at the first glance is, no doubt, very striking; but it soon passes away. If we saw a Garrick acting Shakspeare in a large hall, without any scenes, we should cease in a few minutes to be sensible of the want of them. We are almost disposed to believe, that exactly in proportion as scenery has been improved, good acting has declined.

The present age is too much inclined to make human life, in every department, resemble a great lottery, in which there are a very few enormous prizes, and all the rest of the tickets are blanks. The stage has not escaped the evil we complain of; on the contrary, it is a striking instance of the mischief of this unequal partition. The public are of opinion, that it is impossible to reward a small number of actors too highly, and to pay the remainder at too low a rate; to neglect the latter enough, or to be sufficiently attentive to the former. On our stage; therefore, the inferior parts, and indeed all but one or two, and especially in tragedies, where the inequality is more intolerable, and more inexcusable, are sustained in a very inadequate manner. In foreign theatres, on the contrary, and especially in France, the whole performance is more equal, and consequently more agreeable. There is perhaps less difference than is commonly supposed between the best performers and those in the next class. Whatever the difference be, it is an inconvenience aud an imperfection that ought to be palliated; but we aggravate it. The first-rate actor always does his best, because the audience expect it, and reward him with their applause; but no one cares for, or observes, the performer of second-rate talents. Whether he be perfect in his part, and exert himself to the utmost, or be slovenly or negligent throughout, he is unpraised and unblamed. The general effect, therefore, of our tragedies, is very unsatisfactory; for that is far greater, where all the characters are tolerably well supported, than where there is one good actor, and all the other parts are inhumanly murdered. This latter is too often the case on our stage; for with us art does little, nothing being taught systematically! The French players, on the contrary, are thoroughly drilled, and well instructed in every requisite.*

In Vol. xlvi.p. 368, there is an Essay on the History of Private Theatricals, containing a vast deal of rare and curious knowledge on a subject which has not been discussed by any other writer in so attractive a manner. It has been ascribed, though I know not on what grounds, to Lady Morgan. I could not find room for it without displacing other articles of equal interest. For the same reason, the following have been rejected: a Critique on the Anglo-French Drama, Vol. I. p. 225; and a Disquisition on Greek Tragedy, Vol. xlvii. p. 418.


All true lovers of English poetry have been long in love with the dramatists of the time of Elizabeth and James; and must have been sensibly comforted by their late restoration to some degree of favour and notoriety. If there was any good reason indeed to believe, that the notice which they have recently attracted proceeded from any thing but that indiscriminate rage for editing and annotating by which the present times are so happily distinguished, we should be disposed to hail it as the most unequivocal symptom of improvement in public taste that has yet occurred to reward and animate our labours. At all events, however, it gives us a chance of such an improvement, by placing in the hands of many, who would not otherwise have heard of them, some of those beautiful performances which we have always regarded as among the most pleasing and characteristic productions of our genius.

We cannot resist the opportunity which this publication seems to afford, of saying a word or two of a class of writers, whom we have long worshipped in secret with a sort of idolatrous veneration, and now find once more brought forward as candidates for public applause. The era to which they belong, indeed, has always appeared to us by far the brightest in the history of English literature,-or indeed of human intellect and capacity. There never was, any where, any thing like the sixty or seventy years that elapsed from the middle of Elizabeth's reign to the period of the Restoration, In point of real force and originality of genius, neither the age of Pericles, nor the age of Augustus, nor the times of Leo X., nor of Louis XIV., can come at all into comparison; for, in that short period, we shall find the names of almost all the very great men that this nation has ever produced, -the names of Shakspeare, and Bacon, and Spenser, and Sidney,-and Hooker, and Taylor, and Barrow, and Raleigh,—and Napier,-and Milton, and Cudwort, and Hobbes, and many others;-men, all of them, not merely of great talents and accomplishments, but of vast compass and reach of understanding, and of minds truly creative and original;-not perfecting art by the delicacy of their taste, or digesting knowledge by the justness of their reasonings; but making vast and substantial additions to the materials upon which taste and reason must hereafter be employed, and enlarging, to an incredible and unparalleled extent, both the stores and the resources of the human faculties.

Whether the brisk concussion which was given to men's minds by the force of the Reformation, had much effect in producing this sudden developement of British genius, we cannnot undertake to determine. For our own part, we should be rather inclined to hold, that the Reformation itself was but one symptom or effect of that great spirit of progression and improvement which had been set in operation by deeper and more general causes, and which afterwards blossomed out into this splendid harvest of authorship. But whatever may have been the causes that determined the appearance of these great works, not only that they appeared together in great numbers, but that they possessed a common character, which, in spite of the great diversity of their subjects and designs, would have made them be classed together as the works of the same order or description of men,

The Dramatic Works of John Ford; with an Introduction and Explanatory Notes. By Henry Weber, Esq.-Vol. xviii. p. 275. August, 1811.

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