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generally observed, that those who do a great deal not ill, have been preferred to those who do but little, though ever so masterly. And therefore I allow, that while there were so few good parts, and as few good judges of them, it ought to have been no wonder to me, that as an actor I was less valued by the master or the common people, than either of them. All the ad. vantage I had of them was, that by not being troublesome I had more of our master's personal inclination than any actor of the male sex; and so much of it, that I was almost the only one whom at that time he used to-take into his parties of pleasure; very often tête à tête, and sometimes in a partie quarrée. These then were the qualifications, however good or bad, to which may be imputed our master's having made choice of me to assist him in the difficulty under which he now laboured. He was himself sometimes inclined to set up Powel again as a check upon the overbear. ing temper of Wilks. Though, to say truth, he liked neither of them, but was still under a necessity that one of them should preside; though he scarce knew which of the two evils to choose. This question, when I happened to be alone with him, was often debated in our evening conversation; nor indeed did I find it an easy matter to know which party I ought to recommend to his election. I knew they were neither of them well-wishers to me, as in common they were enemies to most actors in proportion to the merit that seemed to be rising in them. But as I had the prosperity of the stage more at heart than any other consideration, I could not be long undetermined in my opinion, and therefore gave it to our master at once in favour of Wilks. I, with all the force I could muster, insisted, “That if Powel were preferred, the ill example of his negligence and abandoned character (whatever his merit on the stage might be) would reduce our company to contempt and beggary ; observing, at the same time, in how much better order our affairs went forward 'since Wilks came among us, of which I recounted several instances that are not so necessary to tire my reader with. All this though he allowed to be true, yet Powel, he said, was a better actor.than Wilks, when he minded his business, (that is to say, when he was—what he seldom was sober.) But Powel, it seems, had a still greater merit to him, which was (as he observed) that when affairs were in his hands, he had kept the actors quiet without one day's pay for six weeks together, and it was not every body could do that;“ for you see,” said he, “Wilks will never be easy unless I give him the whole pay when others have it not; and what an injustice would that be to the rest, if I were to comply with him? How do I know but then they may be all in a mutiny, and mayhap (that was his expression) with Powel at the head of them!” By this specimen of our debate, it may be judged under how particular and merry a government the theatre then laboured. To conclude, this matter ended in a resolution to sign a new agreement with Wilks, which entitled him to his full pay of four pounds a week without any conditional deductions. How far soever my advice might have contributed to our master's settling his affairs upon this foot, I never durst make the least merit of it to Wilks, well knowing that his great heart would have taken it as a mortal affront, had I (though never so distantly) hinted, that his demands had needed any assistance but the justice of them. From this time then Wilks became first minister or bustle-master-general of the company. He now seemed to take new delight in keeping the actors close to their business, and got every play revived with care, in which he had acted the chief part in Dublin. It is true, this might be done with a particular view of setting off himself to advantage; but if at the same time it served the company, he ought not to want our commendation. Now, though my own conduct neither had the appearance of his merit, nor the reward that followed his industry, I cannot help observing, that it showed me to the best of my power a more cordial commonwealth's man. His first views, in serving himself, made his service to the whole but an incidental inerit; whereas, by my piosecuting the means to make him easy in his pay, unknown to him, or without asking any favour for myself at the same time, I gave a more unquestionable proof of my preferring the public to my private interest. From the same principle, I never murmured at whatever little parts fell to my share; and though I knew it would not recommend me to the favour of the common people, I often submitted to play wicked characters, rather than they should be worse done by weaker actors than myself. But perhaps in all this patience under my situation, I supported my spirits by a conscious vanity; for I fancied I had more reason to value myself upon being sometimes the confidant and companion of our master, than Wilks had in all the more public favours he had extorted from him. I imagined too there was sometimes as much skill to be shown in a short part as in the most voluminous, which he generally made choice of; that even the coxcombly follies of a sir John L'aw might as well distinguish the capacity of an ar:tor, as all the dry enterprises and busy conduct of a Truewit. Nor could I have any reason to repine at the superiority he enjoyed, when I considered at how dear a rate it was purchased, at the continual expense of a restless jealousy and fretful impatience. These were the passions that in the height of his successes kept him lean to his last hour, while what I wanted in rank or glory was amply made up to me in ease and cheerfulness. But let not this observation either lessen his merit or lift up my own; since our different tempers were not in our choice, but equally natural to both of us. To be employed on the stage was the delight of his life; to be justly excused from it was the joy of mine : I loved ease, and he preeminence: in that he might be more commendable. Though he often disturbed me, he seldom could do it withont more disordering himself. In our dis. putes, his warmth could less bear truth, than I could support manifest injuries. He would hazard our undoing, to gratify his passions, though otherwise an honest man; and I rather chose to give up my reason or not see my wrong, than ruin our community by an equal rashness. By this opposite conduct, our accounts at the end of our labours stood thus : while he lived he was the elder man: when he died, he was not so old as I am. He never left the stage till he left the world; I never so well enjoyed the world as when I left the stage. He died in possession of his wishes; and I, by having had a less choleric ambition, am still tasting mine in health and liberty. But as he in a great measure wore out the organs of life in his incessant labours to gratify the public, the many he gave pleasure to will always owe his memory a favourable report. Some facts that will vouch for the truth of this account will be found in the sequel of these memoirs. If I have spoke with more freedom of his quondam competitor Powel, let my good intentions to future actors, in showing what will so much concern them to avoid, be my excuse for it: for though Powel had from nature much more than Wilks—in voice and ear, in elocution in tragedy, and humour in comedy, greatly the advantage of him; yet, as I have observed, from the neglect and abuse of those valuable gifts, he suffered Wilks to be of thrice the service to our society. Let me give another instance of the reward and favour which in a theatre diligence and sobriety seldom fail of. Mills the elder grew into the friendship of Wilks, with not a great deal more than those useful qualities to recommend him. He was an honest, quiet, careful man, of as few faults as excellencies; and Wilks rather chose him for his second in many plays, than an actor of perhaps greater skill that was not so laboriously diligent. And from this constant assiduity, Mills, with making to himself a friend in Wilks, was advanced to a larger salary than any man-actor had enjoyed during my time on the stage. I have yet to offer a more happy recommendation of temperance, which a late celebrated actor was warned into by the misconduct of Powel. About the year that Wilks returned from Dublin, Booth, who had commenced actor upon
theatre, came over to the company in Lincoln's-innfields. He was then but an under-graduate of the buskin, and, as he told me himself, had been for some time too frank a lover of the bottle ; but having had the happiness to observe into what contempt and distresses Powel had plunged himself by the same vice, he was so struck with terror of his example, that he fixed a resolution (which from that time to the end of his days he strictly observed) of utterly reforming it; an uncommon act of philosophy in a young man, of which in his fame and fortune he afterwards enjoyed the reward and benefit. These observations I have not merely thrown together as a moralist, but to prove that the briskest loose liver or intemperate man (though morality were out of the question) can never arrive at the necessary excellencies of a good or useful actor.
The patentee of Drury-lane wiser than his actors. His particular management.-The author continues to write plays. -Why:-The best dramatic poets censured by Jeremy Collier in his “ Short View of the Stage.”—It has a good effect. The master of the revels from that time cautious in his licensing new plays.--A complaint against him.His authority founded upon custom only. The late law for fixing that authority in a proper person considered.
Though the master of our theatre had no conception himself of theatrical merit, either in authors or actors, yet hisjudgment was governed by a saving rule in both : he looked into his receipts for the value of a play, and from common fame he judged of his actors. whatever rulę he was governed, while he had prudently reserved to himself a power of not paying them more than their merit could get, he could not be much deceived by their being over er undervalued.