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DECADENCE OF THE DRAMA.
The winter theatres are progressing, like Napoleon in his Moscow campaign, from failure to failure ; and proving, by a strange paradox, that there is something worse than damnation. Operas, plays, and farces, like so many scotched snakes, drag their slow length along, and frighten away all spectators. Oh! that the Garrick or the Committee, that Bulwer or Mills, would have devised some cholera-specific to check this fatal epidemy; to rescue Thalia from collapse, and put strength into the exhausted system of Melpomene. Some comfort, at least, attends the starveling company of modern dramatists, in the nightly experience, that even standard plays of other days exhibit their attractions to empty benches. Were we permitted to speculate on this sudden failure of the theatres, both of London and Paris, we might be tempted to avow an opinion that, whereas the dramatic art is the most precocious among the offsets of civilization, (springing iris-like from the dense clouds of barbarism,) it is that one which civilization soonest outstrips. Except in the mere trinkets of costume, the drama has acquired no new attractions for the last three centuries. Romance has stepped from the Arcadia of Sidney to the Ivanhoe or Waverley of Scott; painting has advanced from the wooden effigies of Zucchero to the breathing graces of Lawrence ; harmony has renounced her salt-box and virginals for the harp and piano of Broadwood or Gerard, and lapse the soul in Elysium with Beethoven or Mozart. Sarabands and pavons are forgotten in the aërial movements of Taglioni ; but Hamlet, Othello, Falstaff, and Mercutio, are still unrivalled. Yet what right have we to murmur that the tree of earliest foliage is the first to shed its leaves ? or to be surprised that the world will not yield up its affections to a mere adumbration of that permanent excellence which has lost nothing but the charm of novelty ? The progress of the drama is almost incompatible with a high state of national refinement. When society becomes conventionalized, all trace of that individuality, which forms the staple commodity of the stage, disappears from its surface, and the exercise and exhibition of passion is at length so much at variance with the existing order of things, that what was once applauded as impressive becomes eventually derided as fustian. Exaggeration grows tedious; and we turn to the world as it goes, or to the ever-varying tablets of literature, for those excitements which our unlettered or bookless ances. tors derived from the flourishing trumpets of Henry and Wolsey, or the clashing swords of Richard and Richmond. The diffusion of letters has rendered the philosophy and poesy of Shakespeare familiar to every English ear ; and there is no longer any necessity to hear it mouthed by a gentleman in a spangled jacket, and a face smeared with brickdust. As to the “ Dark Diamonds” and “ Doom Kisses” of the day, the first assembly-room, or nearest circulating library, afford better entertainment, at a cheaper and easier rate.
bis illustrious name.
THEATRICAL APOTHEOSIS OF SIR WALTER SCOTT. There are certain subjects and certain events one would willingly keep sacred from the touch of the vulgar : by vulgar, implying not the lower of mechanical classes, (who have been proved to us by Burns, Clare, Chantrey, Lough, Thoms, no less than by Ben Jonson and Shakespeare, to be any thing rather than vulgar,) but the low-minded great, and grovelling money-getter. It is, however, one of the inevitable taxes
upon distinction, and more especially the distinction of genius, to be subjected to the nauseous pawing and handling of such small deer, as journalists, theatrical managers, et hoc genus omne, — individuals who draw their subsistence from battening upon what is great and noble in the eyes of men, as barnacles are nourished by adhering to some goodly vessel. When Napoleon expired, (Napoleon, whose very glance would have annihilated a whole cohort of the pigmies of the penny-a-line squadron,) the public were nauseated day after day, month after month, with anatomical details of the colour of his liver, and the holes eaten in the coats of his stomach. When Byron died, (Byron, the most sensitive of mortals, who could hardly bear that a stranger should look him in the face,)
all Europe was edified by professional descriptions of the appearance of his dura mater, and the quantity of serum lodged in his cerebelhun. Sir Walter Scott (an object still
' more sacred in the eyes of his fellowcreatures than either the conqueror or the poet) has fortunately been secured by the guardianship of affection from this filthy prying into the mysteries of nature ; and unless (as in the instance of Hampden, three years ago) some gossipping lord of a biographer should presume,
two centuries hence, to desecrate those hallowed remains by hacking them with his aristocratic penknife, they are safe from the profanation of curiosity. It is not so, however, with who can wield a goosequill ; and from the literary countess who concludes her fiddle-faddle obituary article with “ We shall go to him," (we rather think the newspapers, nothing can be more offensive than the libations of milk and water poured upon his grave. The unkindest cut of all has been the catchpenny attempt at Drury Lane Theatre! Nothing can be more contemptible than the spirit or the manner of the thing. A procession, purporting to be composed of the chief characters of the Waverley Novels, was got up, as a theatrical journal justly observed, for the purpose of airing the moth-eaten wardrobe of the theatre, and doubling the receipts of the half-price ; – the sorry exhibition terminating with the descent of a pantomimic goddess in flesh-coloured pantaloons, to cover the bust of the deceased poet!
It has been commemorated by Jouy,—that caustic delineator of Parisian follies,--that a similar display
took place on the death of Grétry, the Ame of French opera. On the drawing up of the curtain at the
Opera Comique, (an unlucky locale for so funereal a scene,) the bust of Grétry was discovered placed under a weeping willow, surrounded by the whole dramatic company of the theatre, in deep mourning, with white handkerchiefs in their hands. A dirge was performed, in the course of which, at stated intervals, the Prima Donna sobbed convulsively, the tenor moaned, the soprano grew hysterical
bass roared, and the whole chorus wept in harmonic distances ; till at length the manager advanced, and placed a crown of laurel and cypress on the bust! The house resounded with acclamations ; the hysterics were encored ; and the spectacle was found so attractive, that it was announced for repetition on the following night, and represented, tears and all, during a long pun. The London public has evinced' better taste. Captain Polhill's Rag Fair was treated as it deserved. Processions of this description have been uniformly unsuccessful, from the Stratford Jubilee till now ; and we own we should have regretted to see the honest sympathy of the public (so readily commanded just now by any thing connected with the name of Scott) deluded into encouragement of so tasteless and paltry an exhibition.
From a contributor who dissents from what we said in our last Number, but with great ingenuity and brilliancy of illustration.
NO. IX.--VOL. II.
LEGISLATIVE REVELS, OR PARLIAMENTARY HIGH JINKS.
Honest Dandie Dinmont, when he elbowed his way into the room where his admired counsel, Paulus Pleydell, Esq. sat enthroned in an arm-chair raised upon the table, and diademed with a bottle-slide, doling out rythmical responses to his admiring courtiers, was scarcely more astonished than we, when, admitted behind the scene, we beheld a grave committee of the House of Commons inquiring into the concerns of the “ legitimate drama.” In the chair sat our respected friend, Mr Edward Lytton Bulwer, enacting with great gravity and decoruin the part of Midas. Mr Gillon played the part of the honest farmer, and Alderman Waithman (a superb representative) the part of his old wife. Sir Charles Wetherell was the squire's pimping steward ; Lord John Russell and Lord Viscount Mahon, Mopsa and Dorcas. Apollo, the legitimate drama, a vague and undefined sort of personage, was represented successively by the shifting Eidolons of Charles Kemble, Edmuud Kean, Mister Thomas Morton, Captain Forbes, &c. The — what shall we call it ? illegitimate drama ? — Pan, in short, was enacted by Charles Matthews, with a relay of helps. The whole
“ in admirable fooling." The jokes of the Chamberlain's deputy have already gone the round of the newspapers, relieving the wonted dulness of many a respectable publication, -so we need say nothing of them. Indeed it is allowed on all hands that the Coleman far excels the Cole woman of poor Foote. Matthews was grand. The wag was evidently laughing at the corner of his mouth during the whole of his examination. Unless the licenser strike out the passage as immoral or political, we shall doubtless have the whole scene in his next Monopolylogue. Conceive the countenances of the inquisitors when they received this answer to one of their questions :-“ If I may be allowed to quote an opinion, I will state the opinion of John Kemble, which I think I can do in his own words, I never can repeat a conversation without I do it in the tone of the person who gave it ;" and then follows the speech of glorious John. And we can positively see the mad wag delivering himself of this remark :—“ I do not think Mr Yates, if I may be allowed to speak for my partner, has so strong an attachment to the drama as I have. I am a sincere admirer of it, and as long as I had a leg to stand on, I supported it. I only left it because I was a lame actor.” Mr Matthews “ never can repeat a conversation without he does it in the tone of the person who gave it." These samples must have been rich :- I meet young gentlemen now who formerly used to think it almost a crime not to go to the theatre ; but they now ask, · Whereabouts is Covent Garden theatre?' If they are asked whether they have seen Kean lately, they will say, “ Kean? Kean? No; where does he act ? I have not been there these three years.' Formerly it was the fashion to go to the theatre ; but now a lady cannot shew her face at table next day, and say she has been at the theatre. If they are asked whether they have been at Covent Garden or Drury Lane, they say, “Oh dear, no! I never go there : it is too low !"" Charles's magnanimous declaration respecting the introduction of live lions on the stage of Drury Lane is his last, and forms a splendid climax. “ I am speaking of such pieces as the Lions. I say that is infra dig. completely. I would not sanction by my presence such a performance.” And therewith he twisted his mouth, drew in his breath, and limped from the table.—Kean had a touch of the sublime, almost as good as those which prompted him to bestow medals on the Indian chiefs, inscribe himself in an album “ Edmund Kean, theatre the world,” or clap up his own bust on the posts of his gateway along with those of Shakspeare, Massinger, and Garrick. “ Have you not found that you act quite as effectively at the Haymarket as when you acted at Drury Lane?- I do not consider it so myself: I think the intellect becomes contined by the size of the theatre.” Mr Morton eminently distinguished himself in this extempore and ad libitum burletta as a finder of mare's nests. Finding that Matthews had earned some applause for producing John Kemble as an authority in favour of large theatres, he determined to outdo him by the intro
duction of Shakspeare. " With respect to Shakspeare and his plays I think I may be allowed to say, he has spoken his wishes upon this subject very forcibly; for in the prologue to Henry the Fifth, impressed with the nobleness of his subject, and the mightiness of his powers, he asks for · A kingdom for a stage, princes to act, and monarchs to behold the swelling scene!' I think he very feelingly complains of how he is · cabin'd, cribb’d, confined within the girdle of these walls ;' and, for my part, it seems a command upon his countrymen that his pieces should be produced in the noblest temples of the Muses.” In other words, Westminster Hall ought to be the theatre, the Fitzclarences (who may be supposed to have inherited some dramatic talents) the actors, Don Pedro the leader of the orchestra, and Charles X. and Henri V. the only monarchs who have at present much time upon their hands, the spectators of Shakspeare's plays. Seriously, a more complete burletta than the proceedings of this committee we have not witDessed : it is certainly no specimen of the legitimate drama. In Mr Bulwer's motions regarding taxes on knowledge, and the proceedings of the German Diet, ministers thought they saw something very like a whale," and they have thrown out this tub to amuse it. There,
Ensconced in his chair,
Of the sky lord mayor, sits the would-be statesman and legislator, enacting “ The Committee," adapted to the British Parliament, collecting information of which nobody was ignorant, and opinions, in nine cases out of ten, as well known as they are worthless.
KINGS AND SUBJECTS.-Of all spirits, the spirit of inquiry is truly the most obstinate and insatiable. If men would but mind their own several and respective businesses, and not trouble their heads about their neighbours', the world might go on smoothly and comfortably enough, and so be saved a monstrous deal of unneces. sary trouble. But they will not. People, under the influence of that 'forenamed spirit, become impertinent, restless, dissatisfied, and insolent: they no longer pay the respect to their betters which their forefathers of yore were wont to yield humbly and without question. They become daring and inquisitively rash ; and instead of dof. fing their bonnets, with a modest “God save your Excellence," they stare out un. dauntedly, in rude irreverence, and are bold to compare speculations with the highborn of the earth. Wealth, title, distinction, blood, no longer a high wall of de. fence to the privileged, are, in these our days, roughly entreated, and sorely unhon. oured ; the eye no longer quails, the knee bends not, and the neck is inflexible and stiff.
Time was when the King's name was indeed a tower of strength, and Majesty a title at whose mention mind and body bowed down in lowly prostration. Time was when “loyalty" had a specific signification, and, like gratitude, was a virtue, the non. possession of which the stoutest were ashamed to acknowledge. Time was when monarchs might indulge in the diversions of warfare, ungainsaid ; and thousands of their devoted lieges would bravely rush to the onset, and spill their warm life-blood, and slay their fellow-men, and burn their towns, and devastate their provinces, and make wives widows, and children fatherless, and dole out destruction the most deadly and terrible, in betokenment of their " loyaliy” and allegiance to a beloved sovereign.
Those were the days of honour, the good old times, when folks were well-disposed, and did as they were bidden ; and paid taxes and tithes, as all honest men ought, without question, and without murmur. But those days are gone, and none shall look upon their like again. Alas! the glory of sovereignty hath become dim, and its lustre dismally tarnished. For the spirit of inquiry has been busy of late among the nations, and men begin to ask strange and mysterious questions. They have dared to think,—" What are kings ? reign they of right divine, and can they do no wrong? Are they by the grace of God, or by the election of their fellow-men? Can men make kings ? Can kings be fools? May kings be tyrants ? What is their use? Are they indispensable ?"
King William of Holland wields the sceptre for his people's good, no doubt : but his Majesty is made of impenetrable stuff; and, forasmuch as he happens (a simple accident) to be pretty particularly obstinate, the half of Europe is to be embroiled in war and ruin; and bloody horrors encompass countless and unoffending numbers, who must loyally die the death rather than His Majesty of Holland should be crossed in his murky mood. Suppose his sacred foot were to slip some fine morning in descending his palace stairs to breakfast, and, tumbling to the bottom, his imperial skull receive an occipital derangement in the region of “ adhesiveness," it is possible the half of Europe would not be embroiled in war, and countless numbes be left peacefully and quietly to live on, unskathed by the hellish atrocities of war. What mighty effects might a piece of orange-peel produce in the destinies of the world!
How much longer will the million abase themselves to the reckless domination of the one? We shake our wise heads, and cast up our astonished eyes at the monstrous madness of the votaries of Juggernaut, and little dream how slight a shade of difference exists between it and our own. But the spirit of inquiry is abroad, asking some ugly questions. Verily kings must learn to live in future for their people : the people will no longer live for kings.
POLAND; OLD NICK AND YOUNG NICK.–The benign autocrat has been graci. ously pleased to remit, in part the sentence of a noble Lady, (Emilia Szczamieika of Warsaw,) condemned to imprisonment and the confiscation of her estates, for having attended her sick countrymen in the hospitals of the city, and bestowed a large sum of money on the National Treasury, in 1831. The property of Prince Sapieha in Lithuania, has been seized, to the amount of 900,000,000 forins; and in the act of carrying off the books, pictures, and statues to St. Petersburg, a fine statue, by Canova, was broken to pieces. Count Potocki, whose estates are situated in the Ukraine, has been despoiled of twenty millions. All the libraries, collections of pictures, medals, engravings, and natural history, are removed from Warsaw to St. Petersburg ; and the autocrat replies to every remonstrance by a declaration, that “ Toute prise de guerre est bonne prise !" At the castle of a distinguished nobleman in Podoli, (occupied as the head-quarters of the Russian army,) the hooks have been taken from the library, to light the stoves, in preference to the wood provided for that purpose. Even these outrages might be borne. But in August last, another seizure took place, of Polish children, in the capital and the provinces; the little creatures being torn from the arms of their mothers, and transported, for the remainder of their days, into the interior of Russia; the girls to be employed in manufactories, the boys in drudgery; all forced to adopt a new creed, and reared in a state of the grossest ignorance and demoralization ! The family of Prince Zangusko (a nobleman who conciliated many friends during his residence in London) are still kept in ignorance of his place of exile in Siberia. The Emperor, it seems, added, in his own handwriting, in aggravation of the sentence, that the illustrious patriot, no less distinguished by his immense wealth, than by his high accomplishments, should perform the journey on foot; and the Princess, his aged mother, having thrown herself at the feet of the autocrat, to obtain a modification of the sentence, was informed that Zangusko might be accommodated with a Kibitka, on admitting that he was induced to join tbe patriots by her commands, or by distraction at the loss of his wife. “ No!" replied the young Prince ; " the resolution proceeded from my own unbiassed will and attachment to my native country. I will not disavow my principles.” In an hour he was on his march towards Tobolsk! Long live Nicholas the Clement !"
PUTTING THE SADDLE ON THE Rigut MAYOR.- The Mansion House, and its annual dictator, afford a standing target for the wicked wits of the metropolis. Sir Peter Laurie, the new butt, (who, like the inimitable Saddletree of Scott's Mid.l.a. thian, is at once a saddler and a sumph,) was pleased to interdict all political allusions at the Guildhall dinner. “Ah," said Lord John Russell, “it is plain that his Lordship is only a bit-by-bit reformer !"- -a happy hit, to have been made on the spur of the moment.
SECOND SIGHT, OR SECOND SOng ?-An ear-witness of the Peninsular Cam. paigns, who immortalizes himself and them in the United Service Journal, states, in the last number, that himself or his friend marched into action at Ciudad Rodrigo, singing, “ Ah! quel plaisir d'étre soldat !"-a celebrated song composed by Boieldieu, in the year 1825.
“THE AWARD OF GOD, MEN, AND COLUMNS.”_It is understood in the metropolis, that, till the excitement caused by the public inquiry into the claims of the Duke of York's creditors, shall have, in some measure, subsided, no attempt will be hazarded to place the statue of his royal highness on the column now erecting in Carlton Gardens, lest it should afford an opportunity for the expression of public feeling. It is certain that a statue of Sir Walter Scott would be a much more appro. priate and satisfactory ornament to the finest street of the finest metropolis in Europe; nor is liis memory likely to undergo any diminution of reverence and regard from the disclosures of future years.