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Shylock, when there were about a hundred people in the pit, but from his masterly and spirited delivery of the first striking speech
"You spurn'd me such a day; another time
&c., I perceived it was a hollow thing. So it was given out in the Chronicle; but Perry was continually at me as other people were at him, and was afraid it would not last. It was to no purpose I said it would last yet I am in the right hitherto. It has been said, ridiculously, that Mr. Kean was written up in the Chronicle. I beg leave to state my opinion that no actor can be written up or down by a paper. An author may be puffed into notice, or damned by criticism, because his book may not have been read. An artist may be over-rated, or undeservedly decried, because the public is not much accustomed to see or judge of pictures. But an actor is judged by his peers, the play-going public, and must stand or fall by his own merits or defects. The critic may give the tone or have a casting voice where popular opinion is divided; but he can no more force that opinion either way, or wrest it from its base in common sense and feeling, than he can move Stonehenge. Mr. Kean had, however, physical disadvantages and strong prejudices to encounter, and so far the liberal and independent part of the press might have been of service in helping him to his seat in the public favour. May he long keep it with dignity and firmness!"
To this passage, again, a curious foot-note is appended, whence we learn that, even in those early days, the brethren of the critical craft did not always dwell together in unity :
"I cannot say how in this respect it might have fared if a Mr. Mudford, a fat gentleman, who might not have 'liked yon lean and hungry Roscius,' had continued in the theatrical department of Mr. Perry's paper at the time of this actor's first appearance; but I had been put upon this duty just before, and afterwards Mr. Mudford's spare talents were not in much request. This, I believe, is the reason why he takes pains every now and then to inform the readers of the Courier that it is impossible for any one to understand a word that I write."
It was, of course, a piece of almost fabulous goodfortune for Kean that Hazlitt happened to be on the spot just at the critical moment. "The belief of the time was," we are told, "that Hazlitt received £1,500 from the management of Drury Lane for those articles. They made Kean's reputation and saved the theatre." The money payment is doubtless a mere romance; but the fact that such a myth should have arisen and found any credence shows what influence was commonly attributed to the articles. Even after his great first-night success, some of the Drury Lane Committee were for shelving Kean, and had he not found powerful support in the press, he might quite possibly have sunk back again into obscurity. But if Hazlitt was a godsend to Kean, Kean was scarcely less of a godsend to Hazlitt. The critic made the actor's reputation, but the actor made the critic's immortality as a theatrical critic. If Hazlitt had not had Kean to write about, he would certainly have written much less, with far inferior life and gusto, and would probably never have collected his articles. We should nowadays scarcely remember that he ever tried his hand at theatrical criticism. He himself thought highly of his Morning Chronicle articles, and it is certain that if we struck out of his theatrical writings the passages devoted to Kean, either in himself or in comparison with other actors, we should deprive them of three-fourths of their interest and value.
Hazlitt's connection with the Morning Chronicle seems to have terminated rather unpleasantly. This is his own account of it :
A writer whom I very well knew
having written upwards of
L'Estrange's "Life of Mary Russell Mitford," vol. ii. p. 47.
sixty columns of original matter on politics, criticism, belles-lettres, and virtù in a respectable morning paper, in a single half-year, was, at the end of that period, on applying for a renewal of his engagement, told by the editor he might give in a specimen of what he could do.' One would think sixty columns of the Morning Chronicle were a sufficient specimen of what a man could do. But while this person was thinking of his next answer to Vetus, or his account of Mr. Kean's performance of Hamlet, he had neglected 'to point the toe,' to hold up his head higher than usual (having acquired a habit of poring over books when young), and to get a new velvet collar to an old-fashioned great-coat. These are the graceful ornaments to the columns of a newspaper the Corinthian capitals of a polished style.' This unprofitable servant of the press found no difference in himself before or after he became known to the readers of the Morning Chronicle, and it accordingly made no difference in his appearance or pretensions.
His last Morning Chronicle article appeared on May 27, 1814-a notice of the opera of Richard Cœur de Lion. It is worth remarking, by the way, that on the previous day there had appeared a notice of Kean as Luke in Riches, which is not included in the View of the English Stage. In the summer of 1814 (July 24 and August 7) he contributed to the Examiner two articles on Kean's Iago (see pp. 39 and 45), to which the regular critic of the paper replied on September 4, eliciting a rejoinder from Hazlitt in the following week, to which the critic put in a sur-rejoinder on September 18. These contributions to the Examiner, however, were merely occasional. During the autumn of 1814, Hazlitt was the regular critic of the Champion, a weekly paper edited by John Scott, who was afterwards editor of the London Magazine. Hazlitt's first theatrical contribution to the Champion was a criticism of the opera Didone Abbandonnata, August 14, 1814, and his last a notice of Kean's Romeo, January 8, 1815 (see p. 33). regular critic of the Examiner in the
He became the spring of 1815,
opening his campaign with a notice of Kean's Richard II., March 19 (see p. 54); and that post he retained until June, 1817. Thus more than three-fourths of the articles included in his View of the English Stage (372 pp. out of a total of 461 pp.) were contributed to the Examiner. Some of his articles are initialled, the majority are not. Some half-dozen articles which are certainly, or probably, by him, are not reprinted in the View of the English Stage, and one of the reprinted articles, on Meggett's Octavian and a farce entitled My Wife! What Wife? (July 30, 1815-not included in this volume) is initialled "T.M."! On November 3, 1816, Leigh Hunt contributed a criticism of Kean's Timon of Athens, and from that date onwards Hunt's mark () is appended to a good many theatrical papers. Hazlitt's last article in the Examiner was a notice of Mrs. Siddons' Lady Macbeth (see p. 133), which appeared on June 8, 1817, and on June 25, he contributed to the Times the article on Kemble's retirement (see p. 134), which closes the View of the English Stage. One other article from the Times is included in that volume a notice of Mr. Maywood's Shylock (September 26) not here reprinted. I cannot guess why Hazlitt should have included no more of his Times work. During the autumn and winter of 1817 there appeared many important criticisms, almost certainly from his pen,
' In all probability: the pages are missing from the British Museum copy of the Examiner. After Hazlitt's complete withdrawal, Leigh Hunt continued for some years to write all, or almost all, the "Theatrical Examiners," devoting a great deal of attention and space to the theatres. In the Introduction to Dramatic Essays, vol. i. (p. xvi.) I stated that Leigh Hunt wrote very little theatrical criticism in the Examiner after his release from prison. That was a mistake which I beg hereby to correct.
all of which he omits, to include a trivial paragraph (for it is no more) on "Mr. Maywood from the Theatre Royal, Glasgow"! It might be thought that he designed to close his "View" with Kemble's retirement; but Mr. Maywood's appearance did not occur till three months after that event, the article being inserted out of its chronological order. We may, if we please, conjecture that Hazlitt sent his book to press at the end of September, 1817; but as the preface is dated April 24, 1818, this seems improbable; and even if the bulk of the matter went to the printer at the earlier date, one sees no reason why he should not have supplemented it while it was passing through the press. It is true that before April, 1818, he had been, as he tells us in his preface, "forced to quit the Times by want of health and leisure"; but we can scarcely suppose that he resigned his post after writing only two articles, with an interval of three months between them. It is much to be regretted that Hazlitt did not omit some of the trivialities of his View of the English Stage, and include a few of his more important Times criticisms of 1817-18; but one cannot, of course, venture to reprint any of these articles as his, however strong the external or internal probabilities of the case.
It appears, then, that sometime before April, 1818, Hazlitt had ceased to write criticisms for the daily or weekly press. For eighteen months or so, he probably wrote nothing about the theatre; but when the London Magazine was started in January, 1820, under the editorship of John Scott, formerly of the Champion, Hazlitt undertook to contribute a monthly article on the drama,
1 Announced in the Times of July 29, 1818, as “This day published, in 8vo, price 12 shillings."