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Though the patent had been often under distresses, it had never felt any blow equal to this unrevoked order of silence; which it not easy to conceive could have fallen upon any other person's conduct than that of the old patentee. For if he was conscious of his being under the subjection of that power which had silenced him, why would he incur the danger of a suspension by his so obstinate and impolitic treatment of his actors ? If he thought such power over him illegal, how came he to obey it now more than before, when he slighted a former order that enjoined him to give his actors their benefits on their usual conditions ? But to do him justice, the same obstinacy that involved him in these difficulties, at last preserved to his heirs the property of the patent in its full force and value; yet, to suppose that he foresaw a milder use of power in some future prince's reign might be more favourable to him, is begging at best but a cold question. But whether he knew that this broken condition of the patent would not make his troublesome friends, the adventurers, fly from it as from a falling house, seems not so difficult a question. However, let the reader form his own judgment of them from the facts that followed. It must therefore be observed, that the adventurers seldom came near the house but when there was some visible appearance of a dividend; but I could never hear that upon an ill run of audiences they had ever returned, or brought in a single shilling to make good the deficiencies of their daily receipts. Therefore, as the patentee in possession had alone for several years supported and stood against this uncertainty of fortune, it may be imagined that his accounts were under so voluminous a perplexity, that few of those adventurers would have leisure or capacity enough to unravel them; and as they had formerly thrown away their time and money at law in a fruitless inquiry into them, they now seemed to have entirely given up their right and interest. And according to my best information, notwithstanding the subsequent gains of the patent have been sometimes extraordinary, the further demands or claims of right
of the adventurers have lain dormant above these five and twenty years.
Having shown by what means Collier had dispossessed this patentee, not only of the Drury-lane house, but likewise of those few actors which he had kept for some time unemployed in it, we are now led to consider another project of the same patentee, which, are to judge of it by the event, has shown him more a wise than a weak man; which I confess, at the time he put it in execution, seemed not so clear a point. For notwithstanding he now saw the authority and power of his patent was superseded, or was at best but precarious, and that he had not one actor left in his service ; yet under all these dilemmas and distresses he resolved upon rebuilding the new theatre in Lincoln's. inn-fields, of which he had taken a lease at a low rent ever since Betterton's company had first left it. This conduct seemed too deep for my comprehension. What are we to think of his taking this lease in the height of his prosperity, when he could have no occasion for it? Was he a prophet? Could he then foresee he should one time or other be turned out of Drury-lane? Or did his mere appetite of architecture urge him to build a house, while he could not be sure he should ever have leave to make use of it? But of all this we may think as we please ; whatever was his motive, he at his own expense, in this interval of his having nothing else to do, rebuilt that theatre from the ground, as it is now standing. As for the order of silence, he seemed little concerned at it, while it gave him so much uninterrupted leisure to supervise a work which he naturally took delight in.
After this defeat of the patentee, the theatrical forces of Collier in Drury-lane, notwithstanding their having drawn the multitude after them for about three weeks, during the trial of Sacheverel, had made but an indif. ferent campaign at the end of the season. Collier at least found so little account in it, that it obliged him to push his court interest (which, wherever the stage was concerned, was not inconsiderable) to support him in
another scheme ; which was, that in consideration of his giving up the Drury-lane clothes, scenes, and actors, to Swiney, and his joint sharers in the Haymarket, he (Collier) might be put into an equal possession of the Haymarket theatre with all the singers, &c. and be made sole director of the opera. Accordingly, by permission of the lord chamberlain, a treaty was entered into, and in a few days ratified by all parties, conformable to the said preliminaries. This was that happy crisis of theatrical liberty which the labouring comedians had long sighed for; and which for above twenty years following was so memorably fortunate to them.
However, there were two hard articles in this treaty, which though it might be policy in the actors to comply with, yet the imposition of them seemed little less despotic than a tax upon the poor when a government did not want it.
The first of these articles was that, whereas the sole license for acting plays was presumed to be a more profitable authority than that for acting operas only, iherefore two hundred pounds a-year should be paid to Collier, while master of the opera, by the comedians; to whom a verbal assurance was given by the plenipos on the court side, that while such payment subsisted no other company should be permitted to act plays against them within the liberties, &c. The other article was, that on every Wednesday whereon an opera could be performed, the plays should, toties quoties, be silent at Drury-lane, to give the opera a fairer chance for a full house.
This last article, however partial in the intention, was in its effect of great advantage to the sharing actors. For in all public entertainments a day's abstinence naturally increases the appetite to them. Our every Thursday's audience therefore was visibly the better by thus making the day before it a fast. But as this was not a favour designed us, this prohibition of a day, methinks, deserves a little farther notice, because it evidently took a sixth part of their income from all the
hired actors, who were only paid in proportion to the number of acting days. This extraordinary regard to operas was in effect making the day-labouring actors the principal subscribers to them; and the shutting out people from the play every Wednesday, many murmured at as an abridgement of their usual liberty. And though I was one of those who profited by that order, it ought not to bribe me into a concealment of what was then said and thought of it. I remember a nobleman of the first rank, then in a high post, and not out of court favour, said openly behind the scenes—“ It was shameful to take part of the actors' bread from them, to support the silly diversion of people of quality.” But alas ! what was all this grievance, when weighed against the qualifications of so grave and stanch a senator as Collier ? Such visible merit it seems was to be made easy, though at the expense of the—I had almost said -honour of the court, whose gracious intention for the theatrical commonwealth might have shone with thrice the lustre, if such a paltry price had not been paid for it. But as the government of the stage is but that of the world in miniature, we ought not to have wondered that Collier had interest enough to quarter the weakness of the opera upon the strength of the comedy. General good intentions are not always practicable to a perfection. The most necessary law can hardly pass, but a tenderness to some private interest shall often hang such exceptions upon particular clauses, until at last it comes out lame and lifeless, with the loss of half its force, purpose, and dignity. As for instance,
fruita less motions have been made in parliaments to moderate the enormous exactions in the practice of the law? And what sort of justice must that be called, which, when a man has not a mind to pay you a debt of ten pounds, it shall cost you fifty pounds before you can get it? How long too has the public been labouring for a bridge at Westminster? But the wonder, that it was not built a hundred years ago, ceases when we are told, that the fear of making one end of London as rich as the other, has been so long an obstruction to it; and though it
might seem a still greater wonder, when a new law for building one had at last got over that apprehension, that it should meet with any further delay, yet experience has shown us that the structure of this useful ornament to our metropolis has been so clogged by private jobs that were to be picked out of the undertaking, and the progress of the work sc disconcerted by a tedious contention of private interests, and endeavours to impose upon the public abominable bargains, that a whole year was lost before a single stone could be laid to its foundation. But posterity will owe its praises to the zeal and resolution of a truly noble commissioner, whose distinguished impatience has broken through those narrow artifices, those false and frivolous objections, that delayed it, and has already began to raise above the tide that future monument of his public spirit.
How far all this may be allowed applicable to the state of the stage, is not of so great importance, nor so much my concern, as that what is observed upon it should always remain a memorable truth to the honour of that nobleman. But now I go on : Collier, being thus possessed of his musical government, thought his best way would be to farm it out to a gentleman, Aaron Hill, esq. (who, he had reason to suppose, knew something more of theatrical matters than himself) at a rent, if I mistake not, of six hundred pounds per annum; but before the season was ended (upon what occasion, if I could remember, it might not be material to say) took it into his hands again. But all his skill and interest could not raise the direction of the opera to so good a post as he thought due to a person of his consideration : he therefore, the year following, entered upon another high-handed scheme, which, until the demise of the queen, turned to his better account.
After the comedians were in possession of Drurylane, from whence, during my time upon the stage, they never departed, their swarm of audiences exceeded all that had been seen in thirty years before ; which however I do not impute so much to the excellence of their acting, as to their indefatigable industry and good