« AnteriorContinuar »
himself, while a lady sat behind him, a loud number of voices called out to him from the pit, “ Place à la dame! Place à la dame !" when the person so offending either not apprehending the meaning of the clamour, or possibly being some John Trott who feared no man alive, the noise was continued for several minutes ; nor were the actors, though ready on the stage, suffered to begin the play until this unbred person was laughed out of his seat, and had placed the lady before him.
Whether this politeness observed at plays may be owing to their clime, their complexion, or their government, is of no great consequence; but if it is to be acquired, methinks it is pity our accomplished countrymen, who every year import so much of this nation's gaudy garniture, should not, in this long course of our commerce with them, have brought over a little of their theatrical good-breeding too.
I have been the more copious upon this head, that it might be judged how much it stood us upon, to have got rid of those improper spectators I have been speaking of; for whatever regard we might draw by keeping them at a distance from our stage, I had observed, while they were admitted behind our scenes, we but too often showed them the wrong side of our tapestry, and that many a tolerable actor was the less valued, when it was known what ordinary stuff he was made of.
Among the many inore disagreeable distresses that are almost unavoidable in the government of a theatre, those we so often met with from the persecution of bad authors were what we could never entirely get rid of. But let us state both our cases, and then see where the justice of the complaint lies. It is true, when an ingenious indigent had taken perhaps a whole summer's pains, invită Minerva, to heap up a pile of poetry into the likeness of a play, and found at last the gay promise of his winter's support was rejected and abortive, a man almost ought to be a poet himself, to be justly sensible of his distress. Then indeed great allowances ought to be made for the severe reflections he might naturally throw upon those pragmatical actors who had no sense or taste of good writing. And yet, if his relief was only to be had by his imposing a bad play upon a good set of actors, methinks the charity that first looks at home has as good an excuse for its coldness, as the unhappy object of it had a plea for his being relieved at their expense. But immediate want was not always confessed their motive for writing ; fame, honour, and Parnassian glory, had sometimes taken a romantic turn in their heads; and then they gave themselves the air of talking to us in a higher strain. “Gentlemen were not to be so treated : the stage was like to be finely governed, when actors pretended to be judges of authors,” &c. But, dear gentlemen, if they were good actors, why not? How should they have been able to act or rise to any excellence, if you supposed them not to feel or understand what you offered them? Would you have reduced them to the mere mimicry of parrots and monkies, that 'can only prate and play a great many pretty tricks without reflection? Or how are you sure your friend, the infallible judge to whom you read your fine piece, might be sincere in the praises he gave it? Or, indeed, might not you have thought the best judge a bad one, if he had disliked it ? Consider too how possible it might be that a man of sense would not care to tell you a truth he was sure you would not believe; and if neither Dryden, Congreve, Steele, Addison, nor Farquhar, (if you please,) ever made any complaint of their incapacity to judge, why is the world to believe the slights you have met with from them, are either undeserved or particular ? Indeed, indeed, I am not conscious that we ever did you or any of your fraternity the least injustice. Yet this was not all we had to struggle with: to supersede our right of rejecting the recommendation, or rather imposition, of some great persons (whom it was not prudence to disoblige) trey sometimes came in with a high hand to support their pretensions; and then, coûte qui coûte,
acted it must be! So when the short life of this wonderful nothing was over, the actors were perhaps abused in a preface for obstructing the success of it, and the town publicly damned us for our private civility.
I cannot part with these fine gentlemen authors without mentioning a ridiculous disgraccia that befell one of them many years ago. This solemn bard, who like Bays only writ for fame and reputation, on the second day's public triumph of his muse, marching in a stately full-bottomed periwig into the lobby of the house, with a lady of condition in his hand, when raising his voice to the Fopling sound that became the mouth of a man of quality, and calling out—"Hey! box-keeper, where is my lady such-a-one's servant?”—was unfortunately answered by honest John Trott, (which then happened to be the box-keeper's real name,) “Sir, we have dismissed : there was not company enough to pay candles.” In which mortal astonishment it may be sufficient to leave him. And yet had the actors refused this play, what resentment might have been thought too severe for them?
Thus was our administration often censured for accidents which were not in our power to prevent; a possible case in the wisest governments. If therefore some plays have been referred to the stage, that were never fit to have been seen there, let this be our best excuse for it. And yet, if the merit of our rejecting the many bad plays that pressed hard upon us, were weighed against the few that were thus imposed upon us, our conduct in general might have more amendments of the stage to boast of, than errors to answer for. But it is now time to drop the curtain.
During our four last years there happened so very little unlike what has been said before, that I shall conclude, with barely mentioning those unavoidable accidents that drew on our dissolution. The first, that for some years had led the way to greater, was the continued ill state of health that rendered Booth incapable of appearing on the stage. The next was the death of Mrs Oldfield, which happened on the 23d of October 1730. About the same time too, Mrs Porter, then in her bighest reputation for tragedy, was lost tó us by the misfortune of a dislocated limb from the overturning of a chaise. And our last stroke was the death of Wilks in September, the year following, 1731.
Notwithstanding such irreparable losses, whether, when these favourite actors were no more to be had, their successors might not be better borne with, than they could possibly have hoped while the former were in being ; or that the generality of spectators, from their want of taste, were easier to be pleased, than the few that knew better; or that at worst our actors were still preferable to any other company of the several then subsisting; or to whatever cause it might be imputed,—our audiences were far less abated than our apprehensions had suggested. So that, though it began to grow late in life with me, having still health and strength enough to have been as useful on the stage as ever, I was under no visible necessity of quitting it. But so it happened, that our surviving fraternity having got some chimerical and, as I thought, unjust notions into their heads, which though I knew they were without much difficulty to be surmounted, I choose not at my time of day to enter into new contentions; and as I found an inclination in some of them to purchase the whole power of the patent into their own hands, I did my best, while I staid with them, to make it worth their while to come up to my price; and then patiently sold out my share to the first bidder, wishing the crew I had left in the vessel a good voyage.
What commotions the stage fell into the year following, or from what provocations the greatest part of the actors revolted, and set up for themselves in the little house in the Haymarket, lies not within the promise of my title-page to relate; or as it might set some persons living in a light they possibly might not choose to be seen in, I will rather be thankful for the involuntary favour they have done me, than trouble the public with private complaints of fancied or real injuries.
The subsequent life of this able and eccentric comedian and dramatist, who lived seventeen years beyond the termination of his “ Apology," supplies but little incident for narrative. The chief circumstance which kept up his notoriety, originated in his quarrel with Pope in 1742.
That able but too petulant satirist did his best to hold him up to everlasting ridicule in the Dunciad; but the injustice of the attempt to make him a dunce was too self-evident to operate in his own day; nor in respect to posterity will it be much more efficacious, the real state of the case having become a well-known part of literary history. Cibber, conscious of the airy briskness of his own character, as a writer, performer, and social companion, observed with great nonchalance, that the wits might deem him light, flippant, or what they pleased; but it was out of their power to justly call him dull ; and the world has agreed with him. He occasionally acted after his retirement, to oblige friends and performers, and was particularly fond of playing Fondlewife, in the “Old Bachelor,” to the Letitia of Mrs Woffington, to whom he manifested the most gallant attentions much beyond his seventieth year. In 1745, being then seventy-four, he acted the part of Pandulph, the legate, in his own play of “ Papal Tyranny;" a very poor production; tragedy being in no