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less entertaining to the general taste than folly and foppery finely drest : for the character that delivers precepts of wisdom, is in some sort severe upon the auditor, by showing him one wiser than himself. But when folly is his object, he applauds himself for being wiser than the coxcomb he laughs at: and who is not more pleased with an occasion to commend, than aceuse himself?
Though to write much in a little time is no excuse for writing ill, yet sir John Vanbrugh's pen is not to be a little admired for its spirit, ease, and readiness, in producing plays so fast upon the neck of one another; for notwithstanding this quick despatch, there is a clear and lively simplicity in his wit, that neither wants the ornament of learning, nor has the least smell of the lamp in it. As the face of a fine woman, with only her locks loose about her, may be then in its greatest beauty, such were his productions only adorned by
There is something so catching to the ear, so easy to the memory in all he wrote, that it has been observed by all the actors of my time, that the style of no author whatsoever gave their memory less trouble than that of sir John Vanbrugh; which I myself, who have been charged with several of his strongest characters, can confirm by a pleasing experience.
And indeed his wit and humour were so little laboured, that his most entertaining scenes seemed to be no more than his common conversation committed to paper. Here I confess my judgment at a loss, whether in this I give him more or less than his due praise. For may it not be more laudable to raise an estate (whether in wealth or fame) by pains and honest industry, than to be born to it? Yet if his scenes really were, as to me they always seemed, delightful, are they not, thus expeditiously written, the more surprising? Let the wit and merit of them then be weighed by wiser critics than I pretend to be : but no wonder, while his conceptions were so full of life and humour, his muse should be sometimes too warm to wait the slow
of judgment, or to endure the drudgery of forming a regular
sable to them: yet we see the “Relapse,” however imperfect in the conduct, by the mere force of its agreeable wit, ran away with the hearts of its hearers; while “ Love's last Shift,” which (as Mr Congreve justly said of it) had only in it a great many things that were like wit, that in reality were not wit, and what is stil less pardonable (as I say of it myself)-has a great deal of puerility and frothy stage-language in it, yet, by the mere moral delight received from its fable, has been with the other in a continued and equal possession of the stage for more than forty years.
As I have already promised you to refer your judgment of me as an actor rather to known facts that my own opinion (which I could not be sure would keep clear of self-partiality) I must a little farther risk my being tedious, to be as good as my word. I have elsewhere allowed, that my want of a strong and full voice soon cut short my hopes of making any valuable figure in tragedy; and I have been many years since convinced, that whatever opinion I might have of my own judgment or capacity to amend the palpable errors that I saw our tragedians most in favour commit, yet the auditors who would have been sensible of any such amendments (could I have made them) were so very few, that my best endeavour would have been but an unavailing labour, or--what is yet worse-might have appeared both to our actors and to many auditors the vain mistake of my own self-conceit: for so strong, so very near indispensable, is that one article of voice in the forming a good tragedian, that an actor may want. any other qualification whatsoever, and yet have better chance for applause than he will ever have wit". all the skill in the world, if his voice is not equal to i.. Mistake me not; I say for applause only : but applause does not always stay for nor always follow intrinsic merit ; applause will frequently open like a young hound upon a wrong scent; and the majority of audi, tors you know are generally composed of babblers that are profuse of their voices before there is any thing on foot tha' calls for them : not but, I grant, to lead or mislead the many, will always stand in some rank of a necessary merit; yet when I say a good tragedian, I mean one in opinion of whose real merit the best judges would agree. Having so far given up my pretensions to the buskin, I ought now to account for my having been, notwithstanding, so often seen in some particular characters in tragedy, as Iago, Wolsey, Syphax, Richard III, &c. If in any of this kind I have succeeded, perhaps it has been a merit dearly purchased; for, from the delight I seemed to take in my performing them, half my auditors have been persuaded that a great share of the wickedness of them must have been in my own nature; if this is true, as true I fear (I had almost said hope) it is, I look upon it rather as a praise than censure of my performance. Aversion there is an involuntary commendation, where we are only hated for being like the thing we ought to be like; a sort of praise however which few actors besides myself could endure : had it been equal to the usual praise given to virtue, my contemporaries would have ihought them. selves injured if I had pretended to any share of it: so that you see it has been as much the dislike others had to them, as choice, that has thrown me sometimes into these characters. But it may be farther observed, that in the characters I have named, where there is so much close meditated mischief, deceit, pride, insolence, or cruelty, they cannot have the least cast or proffer of the amiable in them; consequently there can be no great demand for that harmonious sound, or pleasing round melody of voice, which in the softer sentiments of love, the wailings of distressful virtue, or in the throes and swellings of honour and ambition, may be needful to recommend them to our pity or admiration : so that, again, my want of that requisite voice might less disqualify me for the vicious than the virtuous character. This too may have been a more favourable reason for my having been chosen for them. A yet farther consideration that inclined me to them, was that they are generally better written, thicker sown with sensible reflections, and come by so much nearer to common life and nature, than characters of admiration--as vice is more the practice of mankind than virtue: nor could I sometimes help smiling at those dainty actors, that were too squeamish to swallow them-as if they were one jot the better men for acting a good man well, or another man the worse for doing equal justice to a bad one! It is not, sure, what we act, but how we act what is allotted us, that speaks our intrinsic value; as in real life the wise man or the fool, be he prince or peasant, will in either state be equally the fool or the wise man. But alas ! in personated life this is no rule to the vulgar: they are apt to think all before them real, and rate the actor according to his borrowed vice or virtue.
If then I had always too careless a concern for false or vulgar applause, I ought not to complain if I have had less of it than others of my time, or not less of it than I desired : yet I will venture to say that, from the common weak appetite of false applause, many actors have run into more errors and absurdities than their greatest ignorance could otherwise have committed. If this charge is true, it will lie chiefly upon the better judgment of the spectator to reform it.
But not to make too great a merit of my avoiding this common road to applause, perhaps I was vain enough to think I had more ways than one to come at it ; that, in the variety of characters I acted, the chances to win it were the stronger on my side; that if the multitude were not in a roar to see me in cardinal Wolsey, I could be sure of them in alderman Fondlewife ; if they hated me in Iago, in sir Fopling they took me for a fine gentleman; if they were silent at Syphax, no Italian eunuch was more applauded than when I sung in sir Courtly; if the morals of Æsop were too grave for them, justice Shallow was as simple and as merry an old rake as the wisest of our young ones could wish me; and though the terror and detestation raised by king Richard might be too severe a delight for them, yet the more gentle and modern vanities of a poet Bays, or the well-bred
vices of a lord Foppington, were not at all more than their merry hearts or nicer morals could bear.
These few instances, out of tifty more I could give you, may serve to explain what sort of merit I at most pretended to; which was, that I supplied with variety whatever I might want of that particular skill wherein others went before me. How this variety was executed (for by that only is its value to be rated) you, who have so often been my spectator, are the proper judge : if you pronounce my performance to have been defective, I am condemned by my own evidence; if you acquit me, these outlines inay serve for a sketch of my theatrical character.
commencing actor.–His success.-Facts relating to his
The Lincoln's-inn-fields company were now, in 1693, a commonwealth like that of Holland divided from the tyranny of Spain : but the similitude goes very little farther. Short was the duration of their theatrical power : for though success poured in so fast upon them at their first opening, that every thing seemed to support itself; yet experience in a year or two showed them, that they had never been worse governed than when they governed themselves. Many of them began to make their particular interest more their point, than that of the general : and though some defer, ence might be had to the measures and advice of Bet. terton, several of them wanted to govern in their turn, and were often out of humour that their opinion was not equally regarded. But have we not seen the same infirmity in senates ? The tragedians seemed to think their rank as much above the comedians, as in the characters they severally acted ; when the first were in their finery, the latter were impatient at the expense,