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tion with me, whether we weak heads have not as much pleasure too, in giving our shallow reason a little exercise, as those clearer brains have that are allowed to dive into the deepest doubts and mysteries. To reflect or form a judgment upon remarkable things past, is as delightful to me as it is to the gravest politician to penetrate into what is present, or to enter into speculations upon what is or is not likely to come. Why are histories written, if all men are not to judge of them ? Therefore, if my reader has no more to do than I have, I have a chance for his being as willing to have a little more upon the same subject as I am to give it him.
When direct arguments against this bill were found too weak, recourse was had to dissuasive ones. said, that this restraint upon the stage would not remedy the evil complained of. That a play refused to be licensed, would still be printed with double advantage, when it should be insinuated that it was refused for some strokes of wit, &c. and would be more likely then to have its effect among the people. However natural this consequence may seem, I doubt it will be very difficult to give a printed satire or libel half the force or credit of an acted one. The most artful or notorious lie, or strained allusion, that ever slandered a great man, may be read by some people with a smile of contempt, or at worst it can impose but on one person at once : but when the words of the same plausible stuff shall be repeated on a theatre, the wit of it among a crowd of hearers is liable to be over-valued, and may unite and warm a whole body of the malicious or ignorant into a plaudit; nay, the partial claps of only twenty ill-minded persons among several hundreds of silent hearers, shall and often have been mistaken for a general approbation, and frequently draw into their party the indifferent or inapprehensive, who, rather than be thought not to understand the conceit, will laugh with the laughers, and join in the triumph! But alas ! the quiet reader of the same ingenious matter can only like for himself; and the poison has a much slower operation upon the body of a people, when it is so retailed out, than when sold to a full audience by wholesale. The single reader too may happen to be a sensible or unprejudiced person; and then the merry dose, meeting with the antidote of a sound judgment, perhaps may have no operation at all. With such a one, the wit of the most ingenious satire will only by its intrinsic truth or value gain upon his approbation; or if it be worth an answer, a printed falsehood may possibly be confounded by printed proofs against it. But against contempt and scandal, heightened and coloured by the skill of an actor ludicrously infusing it into a multitude, there is no immediate defence to be made, or equal reparation to be had for it; for it would be but a pour satisfaction at last, after lying long patient under the injury, that time only is to show (which would probably be the case) that the author of it was a desperate indigent that did it for bread. How much less dangerous or offensive then is the written than the acted scandal? The impression the comedian gives do it is a kind of double stamp upon the poet's paper, that raises it to ten times the intrinsic value. Might we not strengthen this argument too, even by the eloquence that seemed to have opposed this law? I will say for myself, at least, that when I came to read the printed arguments against it, I could scarce believe they were the same that had amazed and raised such admiration in me, when they had the advantage of a lively elocution, and of that grace and spirit which gave strength and lustre to them in the delivery.
Upon the whole, if the stage ought ever to have been reformed—if to place a power somewhere of restraining its immoralities, was not inconsistent with the liberties of a civilized people (neither of which, sure, any moral man of sense can dispute) might it not have shown a spirit too poorly prejudiced, to have rejected so rational a law, only because the honour and office of a minister might happen in some small measure to be protected
But however little weight there may be in the observations I have made upon it, I shall for my own pare
always think them just; unless I should live to see (which I do not expect) some future set of upright ministers use their utmost endeavours to repeal it.
And now we have seen the consequence of what many people are apt to contend for, variety of playhouses! How was it possible so many could honestly subsist on what was fit to be seen? Their extraordinary number of course reduced them to live upon the gratification of such hearers as they knew would be best pleased with public offence; and public offence of what kind soever will always be a good reason for making laws to restrain it.
To conclude ; let us now consider this law in a quite different light; let us leave the political part of it quite out of the question; what advantage could either the spectators of plays, or the masters of playhouses, have gained by its having never been made ? How could the same stock of plays supply four theatres, which (without such additional entertainments as a nation of common sense ought to he ashamed of) could not well support two? Satiety must have been the natural consequence of the same plays being twice as often repeated as now they need be; and satiety puts an end to all tastes that the mind of man can delight in. Had therefore this law been made seven years ago, I should not have parted with my share in the patent under a thousand pounds more than I received for it. So that, as far as I am able to judge, both the public, as spectators, and the patentees, as undertakers, are or might be in a way of being better entertained and more considerable gainers by it.
I. now return to the state of the stage where I left it, about the year 1697, from whence this pursuit of its imm has led me farther than I first designed to have followed it,
A small apology for writing on.-The different state of the
two companies.-Wilks invited over from Dublin.-Estcourt, from the same stage, the winter following.–Mrs Oldfield's first admission to the theatre royal.—Her character.—The great theatre in the Haymarket built for Betterton's company.-It answers not their expectation.Some observations upon it.--A theatrical state secret. I now begin to doubt that the gaieté du coeur in which I first undertook this work, may have drawn me into a more laborious amusement than I shall know how to away with; for though I cannot say I have yet jaded my vanity, it is not impossible but by this time the most candid of my readers may want a little breath; especially when they consider that all this load I have heaped upon their patience, contains but seven years of the forty-three ! passed upon the stage, the history of which period I have enjoined myself to transmit to the judgment (or oblivion) of posterity. However, even my dulness will find somebody to do it right. If my reader is an ill-natured one, he will be as much pleased to find me a dunce in my old age, as possibly he may have been to prove me a brisk block head in my youth; but if he has no gall to gratify, and would (for his simple amusement) as well know how the playhouses went on forty years ago, as how they do now, I will honestly tell him the rest of my story as well as I can. Lest therefore the frequent digressions that have broke in upon
may have entangled his memory, I must beg leave just to throw together the heads of what I have already given him, that he may again recover the clue of my discourse.
Let him then remember, from the year 1660 to 1684, che various fortune of the (then) king's and duke's two famous companies; their being reduced to one united ; the distinct characters I have given of thirteen actors, which in the year 1690 were the most famous then remaining of them; the cause of their being again divided
in 1695, and the consequences of that division until 1697; from whence I shall lead them to our second union in-Hold ! let me see: ay, it was in that inemorable year when the two kingdoms of England and Scotland were made one. And I remember a particular that confirms me I am right in my chronology ; for the play of Hamlet being acted soon after, Estcourt, who then took upon him to say any thing, added a fourth line to Shakspeare's prologue to the play, in that
which ori nally consisted but of three ; but Estcourt made it run thus :
For us, and for our tragedy,
We beg your bearing patiently. This new chronological line, coming unexpectedly upon the audience, was received with applause, though several grave faces looked a little out of humour at it. However, by this fact, it is plain our theatrical union happened in 1707. But to speak of it in its place I must go a little back again.
From 1697 to this union both companies went on without any memorable change in their affairs, unless it were that Betterton's people (however good in their kind) were most of them too far advanced in years to mend; and though we in Drury-lane were too young to be excellent, we were not too old to be better. But what will not satiety depreciate? For though I must own and avow, that in our highest prosperity 1 always thought we were greatly their inferiors, yet by our good fortune of being seen in quite new lights, which several new written plays had shown us in, we now began to make a considerable stand against them. One good new play to a rising company is of inconceivable ralue. In .
Oroonoko,” (and why may I not name another, though it be my own ?) in “ Love's last Shift," and in the sequel of it, the “ Relapse," several of our people showed themselves in a new style of acting, in which nature had not as yet been seen. I cannot here forget a misfortune that befell our society about this