« AnteriorContinuar »
to Sarah Stoddart, who ultimately became Mrs. Hazlitt“Charles and Hazlitt are going to Sadler's Wells, and I am amusing myself in their absence with reading a manuscript of Hazlitt's"; adding on the following day : “They [Charles and Hazlitt] came home from Sadler's Wells so dismal and dreary dull on Friday that I gave them both a good scolding-quite a setting to rights ; and I think it has done some good, for Charles has been very cheerful ever since." Mr. W. C. Hazlitt remarks that at this date his grandfather "could almost count upon his fingers the times he had seen the inside of a playhouse"; but I cannot find that he had evidence for the statement. It is much more probable that this
and the WATER KELPE, it will be performed a few nights longer only.
“AQUATIC THEATRE, Sadler's Wells, under the Patronage of his Royal Highness the Duke of CLARENCE. This present THURSDAY, June 3, and following Evenings will be presented a new Dance composed by Mr. Hartland, the Music by Mr. Reeve, jun., called GRIST and PUFF, or the HIGHLAND FLING.—Principal dancers, Mr. Hartland, Mr. Norman, Mr. Lewis, and Miss Taylor.–After which, in consequence of the very great demand for places, the admired Comic Pantomime called HARLEQUIN and the WATER KELPE, for a few nights longer only. The Entertainment to conclude with a new Grand Melo-Dramatic Romance, with new Music, Scenery, Dresses, and Decorations, called The INVISIBLE RING; or The WATER MONSTER and FIRE SPECTRE. Principal Characters by Messrs. Hartland, Smith, Slader, Norman and Grimaldi ; Mrs. C. Dibdin, Misses Bloomgreen, Taylor, and Madame Louis. In the last scene will be presented a Combat with the Water Monster and a Fiery Dragon, the Ascension of a good Spirit, the Appearance and Fate of the Fire Spectre, with the Liberation of a good Genius from the Volcano. The whole of this scene performed on Real Water. The Harlequinade and Melo-Drama both written by Mr. C. Dibdin, jun. The Music composed by Reeve, and the scenery by Mr. Andrews; the Decorations by the most eminent Professors of that art in the Kingdom.”
was one of many visits. Had Lamb had to deal with a neophyte, he would scarcely have haled him off to Sadler's Wells. The two winter theatres, it is true, were then closed, but his favorite Liston was to be seen that night at the Haymarket' as Lord Grizzle in Fielding's Tom Thumb. On the oth of the following December, Hazlitt sat by the side of Lamb, his sister, and H. Crabb Robinson, in the front row of the pit at Drury Lane“next the tweedledees," as Lamb says—to witness the production of Mr. H-, with Elliston and Miss Mellon in the leading parts. This is how Hazlitt wrote of the occasion many years afterwards, in his Table Talk (Essay “On Great and Little Things "):
“We often make life unhappy in wishing things to have turned out otherwise than they did, merely because that is possible to the imagination which is impossible in fact. I remember, when Lamb's farce was damned (for damned it was, that's certain), I used to dream every night for a month after (and then I vowed I would plague myself no more about it) that it was revived at one of the Minor or provincial theatres with great success,
that such and such retrenchments and alterations had been made in it, and that it was thought it might do at the other House. I had heard, indeed (this was told in confidence to Lamb), that Gentleman Lewis was present on the night of its performance, and said, that if he had had it, he would have made it, by a few judicious curtailments, the most popular little thing that had been brought out for some time.' How often did I conjure up in recollection the full diapason of applause at the end of the Prologue, and hear my ingenious friend in the first row of the pit roar with laughter at his own wit ! Then I dwelt with forced complacency on some part in which it had been doing well : then we would consider (in concert) whether the long, tedious opera of The Travellers, which preceded it, had not tired people beforehand, so that they had not spirits left for the quaint and sparkling 'wit skirmishes' of the dialogue ; and we all agreed it might
• It is curious to note that Edmund Kean was at this time playing utility” parts at the Haymarket.
have gone down after a Tragedy, except Lamb himself, who swore he had no hopes of it from the beginning, and that he knew the name of the hero, when it came to be discovered, could not be got over. Mr. H, thou wert damned ! Bright shone the morning on the playbills that announced thy appearance, and the streets were filled with the buzz of persons asking one another if they would go to see Mr. H—, and answering that they would certainly: but before night the gaiety, not of the author, but of his friends and the town, was eclipsed, for thou wert damned ! Hadst thou been anonymous, thou haply mightst have lived. But thou didst come to an untimely end for thy tricks, and for want of a better name to pass them off ! In this manner we go back to the critical minutes on which the turn of our fate, or that of any one else in whom we are interested, depended; try them over again with new knowledge and sharpened sensibility; and thus think to alter what is irrevocable, and ease for a moment the pang of lasting regret.”
We may take it, then, that probably from 1803-certainly from 1806—onwards, Hazlitt was a pretty frequent playgoer. He was brought up, as he says (p. 120), in! the Kemble religion. For Mrs. Siddons his reverence was absolute ; and though he admired her brother more soberly, he was not, like Leigh Hunt, disposed to let the actor's mannerisms outweigh his merits. This is how, in after years, he spoke of Mrs. Siddons. The passage occurs in an essay entitled, “ Whether Actors ought to Sit in the Boxes" (Table Talk), the argument being that, though players on the active list ought not to let themselves be seen in the front of the house, there is no reason why retired actors should not revisit the scenes of their triumphs :
“Mrs. Siddons seldom if ever goes [to the boxes], and yet she is almost the only thing left worth seeing there. She need not stay away on account of any theory that I can form. She is out of the pale of all theories, and annihilates all rules. Wherever she sits there is grace and grandeur, there is tragedy personified. Her seat is the undivided throne
of the Tragic Muse. She had no need of the robes, the sweeping train, the ornaments of the stage; in herself she is as great as any being she ever represented in the ripeness and plenitude of her power !”
This is indeed an uncompromising utterance of “the Kemble religion"; but Hazlitt was at no time a bigot. He did not share Leigh Hunt's contempt for the Young Roscius, Master William Henry West Betty, whose splendour and decline fell between the years 1804 and 1808. In his essay "On Patronage and Puffing” (Table Talk), he speaks thus of the boy-rival of the Kembles :
“Master Betty's acting was a singular phenomenon, but it was also as beautiful as it was singular. I saw him in the part of Douglas, and he seemed almost like some gay creature of the element,' moving about gracefully, with all the flexibility of youth, and murmuring Æolian sounds with plaintive tenderness. I shall never forget the way in which he repeated the line in which Young Norval says, speaking of the fate of two brothers
"And in my mind happy was he that died !' The tones fell and seemed to linger prophetic on my ear. Perhaps the wonder was made greater than it was. Boys at that age can often read remarkably well, and certainly are not without natural grace and sweetness of voice. The Westminster schoolboys are a better company of comedians than we find at most of our theatres. As to the understanding a part like Douglas, at least, I see no difficulty on that score. I myself used to recite the speech in Enfield's Speaker, with good emphasis and discretion, when at school, and entered, about the same age, into the wild sweetness of the sentiments in Mrs. Radcliffe's Romance of the Forest, I am sure, quite as much as I should do now; yet the same experiment has been often tried since, and has uniformly failed.”
To this passage Hazlitt appends the following footnote :
“I (not very long ago) had the pleasure of spending an evening with Mr. Betty, when we had some ' good talk ' about the good old times of
acting. I wanted to insinuate that I had been a sneaking admirer, but could not bring it in. As, however, we were putting on our great-coats downstairs, I ventured to break the ice by saying, “There is one actor of that period of whom we have not made honourable mention- I mean Master Betty.' 'Oh!' he said, 'I have forgot all that.' I replied that he might, but that I could not forget the pleasure I had had in seeing him. On which he turned off, and shaking his sides heartily, and with no measured demand upon his lungs, called out, 'Oh, memory! memory!' in a way that showed he felt the full force of the allusion. I found afterwards that the subject did not offend, and we were to have drunk some Burton ale together the following evening, but were prevented. I hope he will consider that the engagement still stands good."
It is curious to reflect that the Young Roscius survived his admirer nearly half a century, dying in 1874.
The reader will find a sketch of theatrical history during the first thirteen years of the century in the Introduction to Leigh Hunt's Dramatic Essays (pp. xvi to xxxi). While Hunt was carrying on his campaign against fanatical Kemble-worship, critical corruption, and literary imbecility, Hazlitt, as we have seen, was silently and no doubt unconsciously qualifying himself to step into the breach, when Hunt was compelled, by circumstances over which he had no control, to lay down his arms. Hazlitt's entrance on the field of theatrical criticism was not, however, a direct consequence of Hunt's withdrawal from it. Hazlitt settled in London in 1812 (the year of Mrs. Siddons' retirement from the stage), and became a parliamentary reporter and writer of political articles on the staff of the Morning Chronicle. Hunt was sent to prison in February, 1813 ; it was not until about nine months later that Hazlitt undertook the theatrical criticism of the Morning Chronicle ;and it
* Hazlitt's first theatrical article in the Morning Chronicle (the first, at any rate, that is included in his View of the English Stage), ap