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CHAPTER XV.

Sir Richard Steele succeeds Collier in the theatre-royal.

Lincoln's-inn-fields house rebuilt.—The patent restored. -Eight actors at once desert from the king's company. Why.-A new patent obtained by sir Richard Steele, and assigned in shares to the managing actors of Drury-lane.

-Of modern pantomimes.-The rise of them.- Vanity invincible and ashamed.-The “ Nonjuror” acted. The author not forgiven, and rewarded for it.

Upon the death of the queen, plays (as they always had been on the like occasions) were silenced for six weeks. But this happening on the first of August, in the long vacation of the theatre, the observance of that ceremony, which at another juncture would have fallen like wet weather upon their harvest, did them now no particular danıage. Their license however being of course to be renewed that vacation, gave the managers time to cast about for the better alteration of it; and since they knew the pension of seren hundred a year, which had been levied upon them for Collier, must still be paid to somebody, they imagined the merit of a Whig might now have as good a chance for getting into it, as that of a Tory had for being continued in it. Having no obligations therefore to Collier, who had made the last penny of them, they applied themselves to sir Richard Steele, who had distinguished himself by his zeal for the house of Hanover, and had been expelled the house of Commons for carrying it (as was judged at a certain crisis) into a reproach of the government. This we knew was his pretension to that favour in which he now stood at court; we knew too the obligations the stage had to his writings, there being scarce a comedian of merit in our whole company, whom his “ Tatlers” had not made better by his public recommendation of them; and many days had our house been particularly filled by the influence and credit of his pen. Obligations of this kind from a

gentleman with whom they all had the pleasure of a personal intimacy, the managers thought could not be more justly returned than by showing him some warm instance of their desire to have him at the head of them. We therefore begged him to use his interest for the renewal of our license, and that he would do us the honour of getting our names to stand with his in the same commission. This, we told him, would put it still farther into his power of supporting the stage in that reputation to which his lucubrations had already so much contributed, and that therefore we thought no man had better pretences to partake of its success.

Though it may be no addition to the favourable part of this gentleman's character, to say with what pleasure he received this mark of our inclination to him, yet my vanity longs to tell you, that it surprised him into an acknowledgment that people who are shy of obligations are cautious of confessing. His spirits took such a lively turn upon it, that had we been all his own sons, no unexpected act of filial duty could have more endeared us to him.

It must be observed then, that as Collier had no share in any part of our property, no difficulties from that quarter could obstruct this proposal. And the usual time of our beginning to act for the winter-season now drawing near, we pressed him not to lose any time in his solicitation of this new license. Accord. ingly, sir Richard applied himself to the duke of Marlborough, the hero of his heart, who, upon the first mention of it, obtained it of his majesty for sir Richard, and the former managers who were actors.

Collier we heard no more of.

The court and town being crowded very early in the winter-season, upon the critical turn of affairs so much expected from the Hanover succession, the theatre had its particular share of that general blessing, by a more than ordinary concourse of spectators.

About this time the patentee having very near finished his house in Lincoln's-inn-fields, began to think of forming a new company; and in the mean time found it necessary to apply for leave to employ them. By the weak defence he had always made against the several attacks upon his interest and former government of the theatre, it might be a question, if his house had been ready in the queen's time, whether he would then have had the spirit to ask, or interest enough to obtain, leave to use it: but in the following reign, as it did not appear he had done any thing to forfeit the right of his patent, he prevailed with Mr Craggs the younger, (afterwards secretary of state, to lay his case before the king, which he did in so effectual a manner, that (as Mr Craggs himself told me) his majesty was pleased to say upon it, “ That he remembered, when he had been in England before, in king Charles's time, there had been two theatres in London ; and as the patent seemed to be a lawful grant, he saw no reason why two playhouses might not be continued.”

The suspension of the patent being thus taken off, the younger multitude seemed to call aloud for two playhouses. Many desired another, from the common notion that two would always create emulation in the actors : (an opinion which I have considered in a former chapter.) Others too were as eager for them, from the natural ill-will that follows the fortunate or prosperous in any undertaking. Of this low malevolence we had now and then had remarkable instances; we had been forced to dismiss an audience of a hundred and fifty pounds, from a disturbance spirited up by obscure people, who never gave any better reason for it, than that it was their fancy to support the idle complaint of one rival actress against another, in their several pretensions to the chief part in a new tragedy. But as this tumult seemed only to be the wantonness of English liberty, I shall not presume to lay any farther censure upon it.

Now, notwithstanding this public desire of re-estaplishing wo houses, and though I have allowed the former actors greatly our superiors, and the managers I am speaking of not to have been without their private errors, yet under all these disadvantages, it is certain, the stage for twenty years before this time had never been in so flourishing a condition; and it was as evident to all sensible spectators, that this prosperity could be only owing to that better order and closer industry now daily observed, and which had formerly been neglected by our predecessors. But that I may not impose upon the reader a merit which was not generally allowed us, I ought honestly to let him know, that about this time the public papers, particularly “ Mist's Journal," took upon them very often to censure our management with the same freedom and severity as if we had been so many ministers of state : but so it happened, that these unfortunate reformers of the world, these self-appointed censors, hardly ever hit upon what was really wrong in us; but taking up facts upon trust or hearsay, piled up many a pompous paragraph, that they had ingeniously conceived was sufficient to demolish our administration, or at least. to make us very uneasy in it; which indeed had so far its effect, that my equally-injured brethren, Wilks and Booth, often complained to me of these disagreeable aspersions, and proposed that some public answer might be made to them, which I always opposed, by perhaps too secure a contempt of what such writers could do to hurt us ; and my reason for it was, that I knew but of one way to silence authors of that stamp; which was to grow insignificant and good for nothing, and then we should hear no more of them. But while we continued in the prosperity of pleasing others, and were not conscious of having deserved what they said of us, why should we gratify the little spleen of our enemies by wincing at it, or give them fresh opportunities to dine upon any reply they might make to our publicly taking notice of them? And though silence might in some cases be a sign of guilt or error confessed, our acousers were so low in their credit and sense, that the content we gave the public almost every day from the stage, ought to be our only answer to them.

However (as I have observed) we made many blots which these unskilful gamesters never hit : but the

fidelity of an historian cannot be excused the omission of any truth which might make for the other side of the question. I shall therefore confess a fact which, if a happy accident had not intervened, had brought our affairs into a very tottering condition. This too is that fact which in a former chapter I promised to set forth, as a seamark of danger to future managers in their theatrical course of government.

When the new-built theatre in Lincoln's-inn-fields was ready to be opened, seven or eight actors in one day deserted from us to the service of the enemy; which obliged us to postpone many of our best plays, for want of some inferior part in them, which these deserters had been used to fill. But the indulgence of the royal family, who then frequently honoured us by their presence, was pleased to accept of whatever could be hastily got ready for their entertainment. And though this critical good fortune prevented, in some measure, our audiences falling so low as otherwise they might have done, yet it was not sufficient to keep us in our former prosperity; for that year our profits amounted not to above a third part of our usual dividends; though in the following year we entirely recovered them. The chief of these deserters were Keen, Bullock, Pack, Leigh, son of the famous Tony Leigh, and others of less note. It is true, they none of them had more than a negative merit, in being only able to do us more harm by their leaving us without notice, than they could do us good by remaining with us : for though the best of them could not support a play, the worst of them by their absence could maim it; as the loss of the least pin in a watch may obstruct its motion. But to come to the true cause of their desertion: after my having discovered the long unknown) occasion that drove Dogget from the stage, before his settled inclination to leave it; it will be less incredible that these actors, upon the first opportunity to relieve themselves, should all in one day have left us from the same cause of uneasiness. For in a little time after, upon not finding their expectations answered in Lin

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