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give up my suspicion : and if I add a more remarkable fact, that afterwards confirmed me in it, perhaps it may incline others to join in my opinion.
On the first day of the “Provoked Husband," ten years after the “Nonjuror” had appeared, a powerful party, not having the fear of public offence or private injury before their eyes, appeared most impetuously concerned for the demolition of it; in which they so far succeeded, that for some time I gave it up for lost; and, to follow their blows, in the public papers of the next day it was attacked and triumphed over as a dead and damned piece; a swinging criticism was made
upon it in general invective terms, for they disdained to trouble the world with particulars ; their sentence, it seems, was proof enough of its deserving the fate it had met with. But this damned play was, not. withstanding, acted twenty-eight nights together, and left off at a receipt of upwards of a hundred and forty pounds; which happened to be more than in fifty years before could be then said of any one play whatsoever.
Now, if such notable behaviour could break out upon so successful a play (which too, upon the share sir John Vanbrugh had in it, I will venture to call a good one) what shall we impute it to? Why may not I plainly say, it was not the play, but me who had a hand in it, they did not like? And for what reason? If they were not ashamed of it, why did not they publish it ? No; the reason had published itself, I was the author of the “Nonjuror.” But perhaps, of all authors, I ought not to make this sort of complaint, because I have reason to think, that that particular offence has made me more honourable friends than enemies; the latter of which L am not unwilling should know (however unequal the merit may be to the reward) that part of the bread I now eat was given me for having writ the “Nonjuror."
And yet I cannot but lament, with many quiet spectators, the helpless misfortune that has so many years attended the stage; that no law has had force enough to give it absolute protection : for until we can civilize its auditors, the authors that write for it will seldom have a greater call to it than necessity; and how un.ikely is the imagination of the needy to inform or delight the many in affluence; or how often does necessity make many unhappy gentlemen turn authors in spite of nature ?
What a blessing therefore is it, what an enjoyed deliverance, after a wretch has been driven by fortune to stand so many wanton buffets of unmanly fierceness, to find himself at last quietly lifted above the reach of them !
But let not this reflection fall upon my auditors without distinction; for though candour and benevolence are silent virtues, they are as visible as the most vociferous ill-nature; and I confess the public has given me more frequent reason to be thankful than to complain.
The author steps out of his way:—Pleads bis theatrical
cause in chancery.-Carries it.- Plays acted at Hamptoncourt.-Theatrical anecdotes in former reigns.—Ministers and managers always censured. The difficulty of supply. ing the stage with good actors, considered.—Courtiers and comedians governed by the same passions.-Examples of both. The author quits the stage.—Why.
IIaving brought the government of the stage through such various changes and revolutions to this settled state, in which it continued to almost the time of iny leaving it; it cannot be supposed, that a period of so much quiet, and so long a train of success, (though happy for those who enjoyed it,) can afford such matter of surprise or amusement, as might arise from times of more distress and disorder. A quiet time in history, like a calm in a voyage, leaves us but in an indolent station. To talk of our affairs when they were no. onger ruffled by misfortunes would be a picture without shade, a fat performance at best.
As I might therefore throw all that tedious time of our tranquillity into one chasm in my history, and cut my way short at once to my last exit from the stage I shall at least fill it up with such matter only as I have a mind should be known, how few soever may have patience to read it. Yet, as I despair not of some readers who may be most awake, when they think others have most occasion to sleep; who may be more pleased to find me languid than lively, or in the wrong than in the right; why should I scruple (when it is so easy a matter too) to gratify their particular taste by venturing upon any error that I like, or the weakness of my judgment misleads me to commit? I think, too, I have a very good chance for my success in this passive ambition, by showing myself in a light I have not been seen in.
By your leave then, gentlemen, let the scene open, and at once discover your comedian at the bar! There you will find him a defendant, and pleading his own theatrical cause in a court of chancery. But, as I choose to have a chance of pleasing others, as well as of indulging you, gentlemen, I must first beg leave to open my case to them; after which, my whole speech upon that occasion shall be at your mercy.
In all the transactions of life, there cannot be a more painful circumstance than a dispute at law with a man with whom we have long lived in an agreeable amity. But when sir Richard Steele, to get himself out of difficulties, was obliged to throw his affairs into the hands of lawyers and trustees, that consideration then could be of no weight. The friend or the gentleman had no more to do in the matter. Thus, while sir Richard no longer acted from himself, it may be no wonder if a flaw was found in our conduct, for the law to make work with. It must be observed then, that about two or three years before this suit was commenced, upon sir Richard's totally absenting himself from all care and management of the stage (which by our articles of partnership he was equally, and jointly obliged with us to attend) we were reduced to let him know, that we could not go on at that rale; but that if he expected to make the business a sinecure, we had as much reason to expect a consideration for our extraordinary care of it; and that during his absence, we therefore intended to charge ourselves at a salary of 1l. 138. 4d. every acting day (unless he could show us cause to the contrary) for our management. To which, in his composed manner, he only answered, that to be sure we knew what was fitter to be done than he did ; that he had always taken a delight in making us easy, and had no reason to doubt of our doing him justice. Now whether under this easy style of approbation he concealed
any dislike of our resolution, I cannot say; but if I may speak my private opinion, I really believe from his natural negligence of his affairs, he was glad at any rate to be excused an attendance which he was now grown weary of. But whether I am deceived or right in my opinion, the fact was truly this, that he never once directly or indirectly complained or objected to our being paid the above-mentioned daily sum in near three years together; and yet still continued to absent himself from us and our affairs. But notwithstanding he had seen and done all this with his eyes open, his lawyer thought here was still a fair field for a battle in chancery, in which, though his client might be beaten, he was sure his bill must be paid for it. Accordingly to work with us he went. But not to be so long as the lawyers were in bringing this cause to an issue, I shall at once let you know, that it came to a hearing before the late sir Joseph Jekyll, then master of the rolls, in the year 1726. Now, as the chief point in dispute was, of what kind or importance the business of a manager was, or in what it principally consisted, it could not be supposed, that the most learned counsel could be so well apprized of the nature of it, as one who had himself gone through the care and fatigue of it. I was therefore encouraged by our counsel to speak to that particular head myself; which I confess I was glad he suffered me to undertake; but
when I tell you, that two of the learned counsel against us came afterwards to be successively lord chancellors, it sets my presumption in a light, that I still tremble to show it in. But however, to assume more merit from its success than was really its due, I ought fairly to let you know that I was not so hardy as to deliver my pleading without notes in my haud of the heads I intended to enlarge upon; for though I thought I could conquer my fear, I could not be so sure of my memory. But when it came to the critical moment, the dread and apprehension of what I had undertaken so disconcerted my courage, that though I had been used to talk to above fifty thousand different people every winter, for upwards of thirty years together, an involuntary and unaffected proof of my confusion fell from my eyes; and as I found myself quite out of my element, I seemed rather gasping for life, than in a condition to cope with the eminent orators against me. But however I soon found, from the favourable attention of my hearers, that my diffidence had done me no disservice; and as the truth I was to speak to, needed no ornament of words, I delivered it in the plain manner following, viz.
“In this cause, sir, I humbly conceive there are but two points that adınit of any material dispute. The first is, whether sir Richard Steele is as much obliged to do the duty and business of a manager, as either Wilks, Booth, or Cibber. And the second is, whether by sir Richard's totally withdrawing himself from the business of a manager, the defendants are justifiable in charging to each of themselves the 1l. 138. 4d. per diem, for their particular pains and care in carrying on the whole affairs of the stage, without any assistance from sir Richard Steele.
“ As to the first, if I do not mistake the words of the assignment, there is a clause in it that says, all matters relating to the government or management of the theatre shall 'be concluded by a majority of voices. Now I presume, sir, there is no room left to allege that sir Richard was ever refused his voice, though in