« AnteriorContinuar »
sembling the fact. Later, when his prime favourites were past their prime, and the rising talents were of the second order, when he was no longer a daily critic but a monthly essayist (if not a mere unattached playgoer), and when the drama in general, rather than this or that performance in particular, was the subject of his considerations—it may very well be that his early interest in acting declined, and that he resorted to the playhouse rather for its associations than for its realities. The theatre-habit is like the opium-habit : we cannot relinquish it even when its pristine raptures are things of the remote past. It is very likely that in his later years the theatre became to Hazlitt a place of memories and reflections rather than of present enjoyments ; but it would be a mistake to suppose that the criticisms in this volume were conceived and written in any such vague and reminiscent frame of mind. In the great majority of them, his perceptions are certainly acute enough, his interest vivid and unforced.
This volume contains, we believe, all of Hazlitt's theatrical essays that have any abiding interest for the general reader. The specialist, of course—the student either of Hazlitt or of the stage—will not be content with a selection ; but even he, on referring to the View of the English Stage and the Criticisms and Dramatic Essays, will probably find that there is not very much matter of moment to be gleaned from the pages we have omitted. Our editorial task has been somewhat laborious, for we very soon found that the dates attached to the articles in the View of the English Stage were absolutely untrustworthy, and that not a single quotation could be allowed to pass unverified. It was somewhat bewildering, for in
stance, to find a criticism of Miss O'Neill's Juliet, dated August 15, 1814, when Miss O'Neill did not make her first appearance until the 6th of the following October. Hazlitt appears, in fact, to have dated the papers almost at random in arranging them for republication. Being compelled by this unaccountable inaccuracy on his part to refer back to the original files, we have prefixed to each article not only the correct date of its appearance, but the name of the paper in which it appeared, a point on which Hazlitt himself is quite silent. We should perhaps apologise for this pedantic research on matters of no importance; but it has always seemed to us that if a fact or date is worth stating at all it is worth stating correctly. On the other hand, we need certainly make no apology for having substituted the words of Shakespeare for the haphazard approximations to them with which Hazlitt was content in the way of quotation. Not a single passage of any length, so far as we can remember, is given with reasonable accuracy. We cannot even conjecture how these errors arose. Our first theory was that Hazlitt habitually quoted from some garbled acting edition ; but the acting editions we have consulted are not responsible for these particular corruptions. In some cases he may simply have quoted from memory ; but it is scarcely conceivable that he would trust to memory for a long passage like that on p. 51. This looseness of citation, at any rate, seems to have been a standing custom with him, though surely more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Mr. Carew Hazlitt, in the preface to the 1869 edition of the Characters of Shakespeare's Plays, says: "All the extracts have been collated with the late Mr. Dyce's revised and final text of 1868. In all the former editions,
these quotations were corrupt beyond measure." This habitual impressionism of citation, if we may call it so, scarcely tends to strengthen our faith in Hazlitt's judgments as to the delivery of verse.
MR. KEAN'S SHYLOCK.
Morning Chronicle, January 27, 1814. Mr. Kean (of whom report had spoken highly) last night made his appearance at Drury Lane Theatre in the character of Shylock. For voice, eye, action, and expression, no actor has come out for many years at all equal to him. The applause, from the first scene to the last, was general, loud, and uninterrupted. Indeed, the very first scene in which he comes on with Bassanio and Antonio, showed the master in his art, and at once decided the opinion of the audience. Perhaps it was the most perfect of any. Notwithstanding the complete success of Mr. Kean in the part of Shylock, we question whether he will not become a greater favourite in other parts. There was a lightness and vigour in his tread, a buoyancy and elasticity of spirit, a fire and animation, which would accord better with almost any other character than with the morose, sullen, inward, inveterate, inflexible malignity of Shylock. The character of Shylock is that of a man brooding over one idea, that of its wrongs, and bent on one unalterable purpose, that of revenge. In conveying a profound impression of this feeling, or in embodying the general