Imágenes de páginas

and forced process; not unlike, he said, hatching eggs by steam. But it's ulterior effects, Kemble remarked, were almost death itself to the art. If crowded theatres, containing within their circle all that could be assembled of fashion, elegance, wit, beauty, taste, showered applauses upon children who ought to have been at school, could due encouragement be expected by him, who, through long and patient study, was working out his title to public approbation; by him, who, after a slow and laborious progression, had arrived at pre-eminence in a calling, that demanded, perhaps, more than any other, the ripening aid of experience to guide and regulate the powers which it called into exercise? What an insane spectacle did it exhibit of a polished nation claiming to take the lead in the protection of the liberal arts—its largest theatre crammed to suffocation, to gape upon a boy, strutting as an emperor, or kneeling as a lover; and, as if this was not enough, the journals of the following day exhausting all their English for phrases of panegyric, to describe the spirited conception, the truth and accuracy of delineation, with which an urchin of twelve, nay, not so much—not twelve-pourtrayed the most subtle emotions, and the most complicated passions of our nature; and the rapidity, like that of instinct, with which he unravelled the most perplexed involutions of sense and diction in his author ?

There was a still more recent instance of what Kemble (and I have reason to know that Mrs. Siddons fully concurred with him) considered to be an undue admeasurement of theatrical reputation, and as originating in the same unreflecting appetite for novelty, that had fostered the young Roscius into his short-lived dramatic existence. But he was sparing of remark upon the subject, and naturally shrunk, like a benevolent man, from weighing in very nice scales the deserts of any living creature, when too severe a criticism might probably intercept his bread. But somewhat of controversy having been gradually infused into the conversation, and one of the party having indulged in a most hyperbolical panegyric upon Kean's acting, he could not abstain from saying something; but it was reluctantly done, and with great candour ; and not a little to Arnold's dis

[blocks in formation]

composure, who had been deputed by the DruryLane Committee to go down to Exeter, where Kean was playing, for the purpose of witnessing his performance; and who, having seen him in Richard, had engaged him for that theatre without further ceremony. At length, as if teazed and goaded with the unmeasured encomiums which some one, for the sake, as I suspect, of drawing Kemble out upon the subject, was lavishing upon Kean, John declared him fit only for a burletta. Rivalry, he remarked, was out of the question; he himself was now retired from the stage, and he was only speaking upon a mere point of taste. He thought that in a very short time the poor fellow would break down beneath the weight of his reputation. His reception, he said, was too overwhelmingly flattering to allow him time to reflect on the precarious breath of popular applause, so as to prepare for a sudden shifting of the gale; and he would thus be kept in a walk, for which neither previous study, nor natural or acquired faculties had fitted him, only to be driven from it when his incapacity to tread in it should be become more apparent. Whereas,

[ocr errors]

he observed, a really excellent artist, Talma, for instance, lay safely moored in the public approbation, and secure from the vicissitudes of taste; because the admiration he excited would stand the test of reason, and, therefore, ran no risk of a sudden and capricious diminution. “ You will see,” said John, with something like a prophetic gravity, “ that the actor we are now canvassing, will be driven to the trick of withdrawing to America, as a frail beauty of the lobby finds it expedient to withdraw her charms from it for awhile, to reappear when her face has been long enough forgotten.” The popularity of Kean was, he continued, radically unsound. The galleries, in his case, led the rest of the house ; and it was his by-play (which, if not sparingly and judiciously used, was contemptible buffoonery) that chiefly delighted them.

The last time Kemble had dined with us at the Beef-Steaks, was when his friend the late Duke of Norfolk was present. The place, the chair formerly occupied by his Grace, were so many links in a chain of agreeable association, to one who remembered him so well, and loved to

cherish that remembrance ; for Kemble had received many substantial kindnesses from his Grace. John told us that he had seldom, in the whole course of his life, erred on the side of convivial intemperance; but in his Grace's society, whose powers of carrying off a great quantity of wine, and the charms of whose conversation, (seducing others into the same excess,) were, he said, never equalled by man, - a long sitting seemed miraculously to comprise itself into a most inconsiderable space; and it was impossible, even for those who practised the austerest temperance, to wish to get away.

It sometimes happened, at the close of the evening, that the Duke, without exhibiting any symptom of inebriety, became immoveable in his chair, as if deprived of all muscular volition. He would then request the bell to be rang three times ; this was a signal for bringing in a kind of easy litter, consisting of four equi-distant belts, fastened together by a transverse one, which four domestics placed under him, and thus removed his enormous bulk, with a gentle swinging motion, up to his apartment. Upon these occasions, the

« AnteriorContinuar »