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was after another interval of nine months (July, 1814), that his first theatrical article appeared in the Examiner.
Of his relations with Perry, the editor of the Morning Chronicle, Hazlitt himself gives an amusing account, in the already-quoted essay "On Patronage and Puffing":
"When I formerly had to do with these sort of critical verdicts, I was generally sent out of the way when any débutant had a friend at court, and was to be tenderly handled. For the rest, or those of robust constitutions, I had carte blanche given me. Sometimes I ran out of the course, to be sure. Poor Perry! what bitter complaints he used to make, that by running-a-muck at lords and Scotchmen I should not leave him a place to dine out at ! The expression of his face at these moments, as if he should shortly be without a friend in the world, was truly pitiable. What squabbles we used to have about Kean and Miss Stephens, the only theatrical favourites I ever had! Mrs. Billington had got some notion that Miss Stephens would never make a singer,
peared on October 18, 1813. It is misdated September 24, in the book. Miss Stephens did, indeed, make her first appearance on September 23, but the criticism published on September 24 is not by Hazlitt-at least he does not reprint it. He wrote two notices of Miss Stephens's Polly in The Beggar's Opera, which appeared on October 23 and 30, and a criticism by him of Antony and Cleopatra at Covent Garden appeared on November 16 (misdated December 1, in the book). These are all the 1813 articles which he reprints. It is perhaps worth noting that a four-column letter " On Modern Comedy," signed "H,” appeared in the Morning Chronicle of October 15—that is to say, three days before Hazlitt's first acknowledged theatrical article. It was the longest and weightiest contribution to a discussion on the decline of comedy which had been going on intermittently for some weeks. Does it not seem probable that this letter may have suggested to Perry Hazlitt's fitness for the post of dramatic critic? The criticisms which appeared in the early days of October were evidently by an inferior hand. Hazlitt would scarcely have said of Conway's Othello (October 8) that "his personal appearance was extremely grand," or that he had evidently studied the part with care, and though he threw no new lights on any of the passages, he certainly made no lapses."
and it was the torment of Perry's life (as he told me in confidence) that he could not get any two people to be of the same opinion on any one point. I shall not easily forget bringing him my account of her first appearance in The Beggar's Opera. I have reason to remember that article: it was almost the last I ever wrote with any pleasure to myself. I had been down on a visit to my friends near Chertsey, and on my return had stopped at an inn near Kingston-upon-Thames, where had got The Beggar's Opera, and had read it overnight. The next day I walked cheerfully to town. It was a fine sunny morning, in the end of autumn, and as I repeated the beautiful song, 'Life knows no return of Spring,' I meditated my next day's criticism, trying to do all the justice I could to so inviting a subject. I was not a little proud of it by anticipation. I had just then begun to stammer out my sentiments on paper, and was in a kind of honeymoon of authorship. But soon after, my final hopes of happiness, and of human liberty, were blighted nearly at the same time; and since then I have had no pleasure in anything :
"And Love himself can flatter me no more.'
I deposited my account of the play at the Morning Chronicle office in the afternoon, and went to see Miss Stephens as Polly. Those were happy times, in which she first came out in this character, in Mandane, where she sang the delicious air, 'If o'er the cruel tyrant, Love' (so as it can never be sung again), in Love in a Village, where the scene opened with her and Miss Matthews in a painted garden of roses and honeysuckles, and 'Hope, thou nurse of young Desire,' thrilled from two sweet voices in turn. Oh ! may my ears sometimes still drink the same sweet sounds, embalmed with the spirit of youth, of health, and joy, but in the thoughts of an instant, but in a dream of fancy, and I shall hardly need to complain! When I got back, after the play, Perry called out, with his cordial, grating voice, 'Well, how did she do?' and on my speaking in high terms, answered, that 'he had been to dine with his friend the Duke, that some conversation had passed on the subject, he was afraid it was not the thing, it was not the true sostenuto style; but as I had written the article' (holding my peroration on The Beggar's Opera carelessly in his hand) 'it might pass!' I could perceive that the rogue licked his lips at it, and had already in imagination 'bought golden opinions of all sorts of people' by this very criticism, and I had the satisfaction the next day to meet Miss Stephens
coming out of the Editor's room, who had been to thank him for his very flattering account of her."
We may pretty safely guess that Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig (October 16-18) and the advance of the Allies were the events that "6 "blighted" Hazlitt's "hopes of human liberty," but one suspects a touch of Byronism in the assertion that this article was "almost the last he ever wrote with any pleasure to himself." It was certainly hard, however, that his editor, after pooh-poohing it, should take to himself the gratitude of the fascinating Polly. Talfourd calls it an "exquisite morsel of criticism," and says: "What a surprise it was to read it for the first time, amidst the tempered patriotism and measured praise of Mr. Perry's columns." Here is the article in question, which appeared on October 23, 1813 :
"The Beggar's Opera was acted at Covent Garden last night, for the purpose of introducing Miss Stephens in the character of Polly. The play itself is among the most popular of our dramas, and one which the public are always glad to have some new excuse for seeing acted again. Its merits are peculiarly its own. It not only delights, but instructs us, without our knowing how, and though it is at first view equally offensive to good taste and common decency. The materials, indeed, of which it is composed, the scenes, characters, and incidents, are in general of the lowest and most disgusting kind; but the author, by the sentiments and reflections which he has put into the mouths of highwaymen, turnkeys, their wives and daughters, has converted the motley groupe into a set of fine gentlemen and ladies, satirists, and philosophers. What is still more extraordinary, he has effected this transformation without once violating probability, or 'o'erstepping the modesty of nature.' In fact, Gay has in this instance turned the tables on the critics; and by the assumed license of the mock-heroic style, has enabled himself to do justice to nature, that is, to give all the force, truth, and locality of real feeling to the thoughts and expressions, without being called to the bar of false taste and affected delicacy. We might particularly refer to Polly's description of the death of her lover, and to the song, 'Woman is like the fair flower in its lustre,' the extreme
beauty and feeling of which are only equalled by their characteristic propriety and naïveté. Every line of this sterling Comedy sparkles with wit, and is fraught with the keenest and bitterest invective.
"It has been said by a great moralist, 'There is some soul of goodness in things evil'; and The Beggar's Opera is good-natured, but severe comment on this text. The poet has thrown all the gaiety and sunshine of the imagination, the intoxication of pleasure, and the vanity of despair, round the short-lived existence of his heroes, while Peachum and Lockitt are seen in the background, parcelling out their months and weeks between them. The general view of human life is of the most refined and abstracted kind. With the happiest art, the author has brought out the good qualities and interesting emotions almost inseparable from humanity in the lowest situations, and with the same penetrating glance, has detected the disguises which rank and circumstance lend to exalted vice. It may be said that the moral of the piece (which some respectable critics have been at a loss to discover), is to show the vulgarity of vice; or that the sophisms with which the great and powerful palliate their violations of integrity and decorum, are, in fact, common to them with the vilest, most abandoned and contemptible of the species. What can be more galling than the arguments used by these would-be politicians, to prove that in hypocrisy, selfishness, and treachery, they are far behind some of their betters? The exclamation of Mrs. Peachum, when her daughter marries Macheath, 'Hussey, hussey, you will be as ill used and as much neglected as if you had married a Lord,' is worth all Miss Hannah More's laboured invectives on the laxity of the manners of high life!
"The innocent and amiable Polly found a most interesting representative in Miss Stephens. Her acting throughout was simple, unaffected, graceful, and full of tenderness. Her tones in speaking, though low, and suited to the gentleness of the character, were distinct, and varied with great flexibility. She will lose by her performance of this part none of the reputation she has gained in Mandane. The manner in which she gave the song in the first act,' But he so teased me,' &c., was sweetness itself. the notes undulated through the house, amidst murmurs of rapturous applause. She gave equal animation and feeling to the favourite air, Cease your funning.' To this, however, as well as to some other of the songs, a more dramatic effect might perhaps be given. There is a severity of feeling, and a plaintive sadness, both in the words and music of the songs in this Opera, on which too much stress cannot be laid."
We should scarcely regard this as an epoch-making criticism nowadays, but it was no doubt an important and original utterance in its time. Talfourd declares that it "restored The Beggar's Opera, which had long been treated as a burlesque appendage to the Newgate Calendar, to its proper station."
It was a pure coincidence, and a happy one, that Hazlitt should have taken to dramatic criticism just in time to chronicle and celebrate the advent of Edmund Kean. Drury Lane Theatre, burnt down in 1809, had been rebuilt, and opened in October, 1812, Elliston speaking Byron's prologue. The company was not a strong one, Rae being its leading tragedian, while comedy was represented by Dowton, Bannister, Miss Mellon and Mrs. Glover. It could make no head against the opposition of Covent Garden, where, though Kemble did not appear, tragedy was represented .by Charles Kemble and Charles Mayne Young, comedy by Liston, Emery, Mathews, Mrs. Charles Kemble and Mrs. Jordan. The season of 1813-14 opened still more disastrously, though Munden had meanwhile joined the company; and the theatre was on the verge of bankruptcy when, on the 26th of January, 1814, "Mr. Kean, from the Theatre Royal, Exeter," was announced to make his first appearance in Shylock. Only two newspapers, says Kean's biographer, were represented; but fortunately one of them was the Morning Chronicle, the editor of which had specially commended the new actor to the notice of his new critic. This is how Hazlitt spoke of the occasion many years after. (Table Talk: "On Patronage and Puffery ") :-
"I was sent to see Kean the first night of his performance in