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soliloquy, just before his death, he was rather inaudible, and indeed the speech itself is not worth hearing; but his person, manner, and dress, seemed cast in the very mould of Roman elegance and dignity.
"THE IRON CHEST."
Examiner, December 1, 1816. The Iron Chest is founded on the story of Caleb Williams, one of the best novels in the language, and the very best of the modern school; but the play itself is by no means the best play that ever was written, either in ancient or modern times, though really in modern times we do not know of any much better. Mr. Colman's serious style, which is in some measure an imitation of Shakespeare's, is natural and flowing; and there is a constant intermixture, as in our elder drama, a mélange of the tragic and comic; but there is rather a want of force and depth in the impassioned parts of his tragedies, and what there is of this kind is impeded in its effect by the comic. The two plots (the serious and ludicrous) do not seem going on and gaining ground at the same time, but each part is intersected and crossed by the other, and has to set out again in the next scene, after being thwarted in the former one, like a person who has to begin a story over again in which he has been interrupted. In Shakespeare, the comic parts serve only as a relief to the tragic. Colman's tragic scenes are not high-wrought enough to require any such relief; and this perhaps may be a sufficient reason why modern writers, who are so sparing of their own nerves, and those of their readers, should not be allowed to depart from the effeminate simplicity of the classic style. In Shakespeare, again, the comic varieties
are only an accompaniment to the loftier tragic movement; at least the only exception is in the part of Falstaff in Henry IV., which is not, however, a tragedy of any deep interest. In Colman you do not know whether the comedy or tragedy is principal, whether he made the comic for the sake of the tragic, or the tragic for the sake of the comic. and you suspect he would be as likely as any of his contemporaries to parody his own most pathetic passages, just as Munden caricatures the natural touches of garrulous simplicity in old Adam Winterton, to make the galleries and boxes laugh. The great beauty of Caleb Williams is lost in the play. The interest of the novel arises chiefly from two things: the gradual working up of the curiosity of Caleb Williams with respect to the murder, by the incessant goading on of which he extorts the secret from Falkland, and then from the systematic persecution which he undergoes from his master, which at length urges him to reveal the secret to the world. Both these are very ingeniously left out by Mr. Colman, who jumps at a conclusion, but misses his end.
The history of the Iron Chest is well known to dramatic readers. Mr. Kemble either could not, or would not, play the part of Sir Edward Mortimer (the Falkland of Mr. Godwin's novel)—he made nothing of it, or at least made short work of it, for it was only played one night. He had a cough and a cold, and he hemmed and hawed, and whined and drivelled through the part in a marvellous manner. Mr. Colman was enraged at the illsuccess of his piece, and charged it upon Kemble's acting, who, he said, did not do his best. Now we confess he generally tries to do his best, and if that best is no better, it is not his fault. We think the fault was in the part,
which wants circumstantial dignity. Give Mr. Kemble only the man to play, why, he is nothing; give him the paraphernalia of greatness, and he is great. He "wears his heart in compliment extern." He is the statue on the pedestal, that cannot come down without danger of shaming its worshippers; a figure that tells well with appropriate scenery and dresses; but not otherwise. Mr. Kemble contributes his own person to a tragedy-but only that. The poet must furnish all the rest, and make the other parts equally dignified and graceful, or Mr. Kemble will not help him out. He will not lend dignity to the mean, spirit to the familiar; he will not impart life and motion, passion and imagination, to all around him, for he has neither life nor motion, passion nor imagination in himself. He minds only the conduct of his own person, and leaves the piece to shift for itself. Not so Mr. Kean. "Truly he hath a devil ;" and if the fit comes over him too often, yet, as tragedy is not the representation of still-life, we think this much better than being never roused at all. We like
The fiery soul that working out its way,
Mr. Kean has passion and energy enough to afford to lend it to the circumstances in which he is placed, without leaning upon them for support. He can make a dialogue between a master and a servant in common life tragic, or infuse a sentiment into The Iron Chest. He is not afraid of being let down by his company. Formal dignity and studied grace are ridiculous, except in particular circumstances; passion and nature are everywhere Dryden, Absalom and Achitophel.
the same, and these Mr. Kean carries with him into all his characters, and does not want the others. In the last, however, which are partly things of manner and assumption, he improves, as well as in the recitation of set speeches; for example, in the Soliloquy on Honour in the present play. His description of the assassination of his rival to Wilford was admirable, and the description of his "seeing his giant form roll before him in the dust," was terrific and grand. In the picturesque expression of passion, by outward action, Mr. Kean is unrivalled. The transitions in this play, from calmness to deep despair, from concealed suspicion to open rage, from smooth decorous indifference to the convulsive agonies of remorse, gave Mr. Kean frequent opportunities for the display of his peculiar talents. The mixture of commonplace familiarity and solemn injunction in his speeches to Wilford when in the presence of others, was what no other actor could give with the same felicity and force. The last scene of all-his coming to life again after his swooning at the fatal discovery of his guilt, and then falling back after a ghastly struggle, like a man waked from the tomb, into despair and death in the arms of his mistress, was one of those consummations of the art, which those who have seen and have not felt them in this actor, may be assured that they have never seen or felt anything in the course of their lives, and never will to the end of them.
MR. KEMBLE'S KING JOHN. Examiner, December 8, 1816. WE wish we had never seen Mr. Kean. He has destroyed the Kemble religion; and it is the religion in which we were brought up. Never again shall we behold Mr.
Kemble with the same pleasure that we did, nor see Mr. Kean with the same pleasure that we have seen Mr. Kemble formerly. We used to admire Mr. Kemble's figure and manner, and had no idea that there was any want of art or nature. We feel the force and nature of Mr. Kean's acting, but then we feel the want of Mr. Kemble's person. Thus an old and delightful prejudice is destroyed, and no new enthusiasm, no second idolatry, comes to take its place. Thus, by degrees, knowledge robs us of pleasure, and the cold icy hand of experience freezes up the warm current of the imagination, and crusts it over with unfeeling criticism. The knowledge we acquire of various kinds of excellence, as successive opportunities present themselves, leads us to require a combination of them which we never find realised in any individual, and all the consolation for the disappointment of our fastidious expectations is in a sort of fond and doating retrospect of the past. It is possible, indeed, that the force of prejudice might often kindly step in to suspend the chilling effects of experience, and we might be able to see an old favourite, by a voluntary forgetfulness of other things, as we saw him twenty years ago; but his friends take care to prevent this, and by provoking invidious comparisons, and crying up their idol as a model of abstract perfection, force us to be ill-natured in our own defence.
We went to see Mr. Kemble's King John, and he became the part so well, in costume, look, and gesture, that if left to ourselves, we could have gone to sleep over it, and dreamt that it was fine, and "when we waked, have cried to dream again." But we were told that it was really fine, as fine as Garrick, as fine as Mrs. Siddons, as fine as Shakespeare; so we rubbed our eyes