« AnteriorContinua »
on that occafion! What an oppofition is feen in him of averfion and tendernefs; of rage and foftnefs; of tyrannic fiercenefs, and of flavish humility; what terrible projects of revenge, and what gallant refolutions of forgetting every thing.
Whoever has seen the performer who now plays Arnolphe at Paris,will not blame us for going fo far for an inftance of a perfection in this article, which we cannot flatter ourselves (notwithstanding all the merit we have been fo juft to in Mr. Garrick) fo far as to pretend is found at home.
If in playing comedy it is neceffary that the player be able to make the moft different impreffions fucceed one another readily and easily in his heart, it is not lefs effential to the performer in tragedy that he feel, much more strongly than the other needs to do, every one of those which he is to exprefs to the audience. Senfibility in the comic actor, therefore, must be a more univerfal agent, and in the tragedian it must be a more powerful one: it must be capable of exerting itfelf in a stronger manner within its due bounds, and of producing greater effects. The comedian needs only to have a foul equal to that of the generality of men; but the player, who thinks to excel in tragedy, muft have one above the common ránk.
'Tis from our being in fome degree fenfible of this, that we are less ready to pardon the comedian, if he does not exprefs, under every circumftance, the just and requifite degree, as well as the juft fpecies of paffion that he is to defcribe to us. We are not in a condition to judge, with exactnefs, of the performance of the tragedian ; we want the neceflary realities to make the comparison, by which we should be able to determine whether
whether he comes up to his duty in the part; but we are never under this uncertainty in judging of the comedians; we never want the objects of comparison for them; but at any time, if we will only examine what would pafs within our own hearts, fuppofing we were in the fame fituation in which the author has placed the character they are representing, we shall be able to decide whether they are accurate and faithful copies.
It will perhaps be reply'd to us, "This laft pro"pofition cannot indeed be disputed; but is "that which establishes a neceffity of this fenfibi
lity to all the performers on the ftage, equally "inconteftable? You have established it as a "first principle, that no player can exprefs a "paffion perfectly on the ftage, if he do not feel "it deeply himself. But how will you be able "to persuade the world that some of our actrelles, "who fhall be namelefs, who are fo perfect "in the art of feigning in private paffions, which "they in reality feel nothing of, may not carry "the fame artifice to the ftage, and diffemble 86 as well with us there? Or how fhall we be "convinc'd, that women who are fo able to "feign things to their lovers, are incapable of "counterfeiting with the spectators,or of defcrib"ing, expreffively enough to them, paffions " which themselves have never felt ?”
The objection is plaufible; but it is eafily anfwer'd. We are not to be furpris'd if women fucceed better in deceiving eyes predetermin'd to be favourable to them, than they can in difguifing their hearts to perfons who are free from this prejudice, and whofe whole attention, in regard to them, is employ'd in examining their actions in a critical and unbiafs'd manner, and that
that with a confiderable share of curiofity and infpection. The felf-love of the gallant is always a very faithful friend to the miftrefs; but that of the spectator has no fuch influence in regard to the actress the vanity of the first leads him to imagine, that he fees the lady what fhe is not; and the difcernment of the other teaches him to fufpect that he does not fee her what she ought to be the one finds a pleasure in fuffering himself to be cheated, the other tastes a greater, in fhewing that he is not a dupe to the reprefentation, when the artifice is too grofs to deceive: he is very willing, in cafes of this kind, to be impos'd on; but he would have his error carry with it, at least, a face of probability.
The miftrefs and the actress have only this in common, that it is the more eafy to them to affect a paffion, as they are lefs under the influence of its oppofite one. From this principle it fol lows, that the actress cannot be too careful to prevent the common accidents of life, whether good or bad ones, from making any great impreffions on her heart. If the fuffers herfelf to be affected too violently with pleafure or concern, on account of her more trivial, domestick affairs, she will scarce ever be in a condition to let the paffions of the character fhe is to represent take place fufficiently in her heart, or affect her deeply enough to make it poffible for her to affect the audience. She will find it a difficulty too great to struggle againft, to difplace, juft at her pleafure, the paffions that have perfonally affected her, to appropriate, with any degree of fuccefs, thofe peculiar to the character fhe is to affume.
The last feafon gave us a very ftrong in-ftance of this truth in a new actrefs, Mifs B-y.
The first night this actress appear'd, we faw in her a good figure, a deportment that promis'd, after fome time and practice, to be not defpicable, and a perfect attention to every incident of her part. It was with confiderable pleasure that we expected to fee her improve upon us the next night; but we were disappointed: every look was wild and staring; and, excepting the awkward ftiffness that had been the principal blemish which difgufted us the night before, nothing remain'd the fame about her. She feem'd to forget every particular fhe ought to have remember'd, except the words, and thofe fhe repeated, in many places, in fo heedlefs a manner, that it was evident fhe was thinking of fomething else all the while. In fhort, her fuccefs had, in one sense, been much greater the first night than she had expected. If fhe had, as an actrefs, found fewer admirers than her vanity had flatter'd her into a belief fhe fhould, fhe had made more lovers than fhe well knew what to do with; and, from that time, the hurry of her paffions, independent of the theatre, render'd it impoffible for her to attend to thofe which belonged to it; and fhe, confequently, became the most flat, infipid, ftalking, ftaring thing that ever appeared there; 'till to our great good fortune, as well as hers, we loft her.
People of a difcerning judgment have found it eafy to difcover the fame occafional interruptions in Mrs. Woffington's playing; and when her mind has been unfettled, have very evidently dif cern'd a want of attention to the bufinefs of the fcene: perhaps it is more owing than we imagine to an uncommonly fettled and tranquil ftate at home, that this lady has for the last year or two fucceeded fo well in every thing. It is notorious
of the late Mrs. Oldfield, that nothing ruffled her temper; it was for this reason that it was always ready to throw itself into every paffion the author pleas'd; and it is not lefs certain, that the greatest actress of the prefent age owes no Imall fhare of her fuccefs to a natural philofophic turn of mind, which nothing is able to difcompose.
CHA P. III.
Whether an Actor can have too much Fire?
HERE are fome modern
Twho, in fcenes where it is required
they fhould be violently affected, are under a neceffity of putting off an artificial warmth upon us, in the place of that native fire and fpirit, that Promethean heat which they find nature has left them deficient in; and we are unhappy enough to have another fet of them, the weaknefs of whofe conftitutions, the natural imbecility of whofe organs will not permit them even to use this refource. We have had many modern inftances among thefe laft fort of people, who finding they were not able to cheat our fenfes, have modeftly attempted to impose upon our understandings they very feriously, and, as they would have it be thought, very wifely tell us, that the fire which the mob is fo charm'd with, in fome of their cotemporaries, is much more frequently a fault in players than a perfection.
The first fet are a fort of coiners of false money, who would pafs copper upon us for gold; the others a fet of fools, who attempt to perfuade us, that the fpangles of hoar frofts co