« AnteriorContinuar »
VIEW OF THE CLYDE FROM ERSKINE FERRY
The view of the Clyde from Erskine Ferry, with Dumbarton Castle in the distance, is one of the finest scenes of a river rich in fine scenes. Sweeter or more sylvan points of the stream may be found, but none in which beauty is so delightfully blended with majesty. The plate, herewith given, comes recommended as the mutual production of Williams, and Millea—the one eminent in landscape painting, as the other is in landscape engraving.
Standing at the threshold of the western Highlands, the scene must be familiar to many readers, especially since steam boats began, with clanking din, to open up the recesses of Nature, and lay bare her beauties. But it is in a particular manner interesting to the people of Glasgow, not only from its comparative proximity to that city, but from the theatrical associations with which it is connected. It has long been a favourite point of illustration with the dramatic painters of the west of Scotland, and from its manifold merits and the force of habit, is now exclusively recognized as the regular classical subject for a drop-scene to the Glasgow stage. We knownot if old Nasmithwasthe first to introduce the subject, but his painting of it in the Queen Street Theatre was universally admired, and indeed admitted to be one of the finest water colour paintings on a large scale ever exhibited. Tempting sums, we have been told, were offered for it by gentlemen or noblemen who wished to have it in their gallery, but it was rightly considered to be too intimately connected with the Glasgow stage to be readily parted with, and its removal would have been resented by the people as a desecration. It often formed, we are forced to admit, the principal attraction of the theatre, and never appeared to more advantage than when, unrolling itself, it extended its merciful wing over a miserable performance. But often as this melancholy duty devolved on it—often as it hid from further exposure the serious endeavours at comedy and tragedy for which the stage of Glasgow has long been renowned—it was yet its happier lot at times to reveal, in succession, the " bright particular stars" which have, in the present century, illumined the dramatic horizon. Let us indulge in a momentary reminiscence i»nnected with this subject.
The Theatre in Queen Street—now, alas! no more—was a large substantial building, more remarkable for the extent of its side-walls than its architectural beauty. Such a mass of stone and lime, unenlivened by window-light, could scarcely be met with; and you mar
32 REPUBLIC OF LETTERS.veiled how the space it embraced was all disposed of, for the theatre within—large as it was—bore no proportion to the outward enormity. In this respect the building differed from most others, which generally are found to furnish more accommodation than their outward appearance would lead you to imagine—little round toll-houses and porter lodges, for example, which you would undertake to carry off in a wheel-barrow, being often discovered, on investigation, to abound in spacious rooms, kitchens, and other incredible appurtenances. Bat the secret of the matter lay here:—the theatre in Queen Street was extravagantly furnished with stage accommodation, dressing-rooms, saloons, and other apartments, which never met the eye of the simple spectator, or occurred to his imagination, and a great portion of it, we can well believe, was unexplored and unknown to the players themselves. Altogether, like most public matters in Glasgow, it was got up on a highly liberal scale, and cost more thousands than we can well remember. But the success was unequal to the spirit of the undertaking. People said it was too large, and proved it so, by staying away. Others said it was cold and dull, and took care not to heat or enliven it by their presence. A falling off in the performers was the necessary consequence of a want of encouragement, until in the end, the theatre was entirely forgot as a place of regular amusement, and was only thought of when some attraction from London condescended to visit it. It was, therefore, with little sorrow, on the part either of the public or the proprietors, that, one fine summer or winter forenoon, in the year of grace, 1829, it was discovered to be in names; and before an hour or two elapsed, it had taken its place among the things which have been. In the absence of more consolatory matter, its ruins were pronounced to be picturesque, for like the dying dolphin, it displayed its finest attractions at its close.
Nothing could be more complete than the destruction, or scarcely more sudden. All was consumed, down to the bass fiddle. The flames broke out in the upper gallery, and ran along the house with terrific rapidity, so that in less than half an hour, it was impossible to remove the most portable article. From the stage, the sight was, for a short time, highly imposing, and will ever be remembered by the few who had the good fortune to witness it. Before either boxes, galleries, or indeed any part of the house, gave way, the whole became one incrustated mass of fire—every part retaining its distinct form, only impressed on the eye with tenfold distinctness by its vivid though tremulous glare. Upon each "jetty, frieze, buttress, and coign of vantage," the living fire rested, not as a consuming flame but as an abiding glory— so that, for a little, the mighty theatre stood, complete in all its parts—with its tiers of box us and galleries—pillars and pilasters—quivering with ineflable splendour. No gilding ever approached the brilliancy of this representation, nor could any permanent lustre, however magnificent, so affect the mind; for that which gives an interest to all things—the fleetingness of their nature—was here most powerfully felt. Striking in an especial manner was the sight to those who were familiar with every bench in the house—who had spent many a pleasant evening within its walls—who had seen many a happy face ranged in those tiers which now glared with such destructive beauty! High up, far as the eye could reach, sparkled (at last) that throne of the gods, from which many a poor apprentice boy first saw glimpses of the pageantry of life, and first had his little heart moved by the gifted words of genius. Farther down, shone the more comprehensive gallery, which so often embraced in its liberal benches jolly groups of all sorts and sizes,—from the Do-muches to the Do-nothings—from the hard wrought tradesman to the idle gentleman. Below, glittered the boxes, in double rows—one held sacred in all time to those who prostitute the person and the pen—the other devoted to beauty and fashion—to those who could rely on the delicacy of their complexion, or the tie of their cravat. Underneath, was to be seen the burning pit, where sometimes an emancipated clerk or literary lounger got his death of cold, but where sometimes also hundreds were half suffocated in witnessing the performances of the O'Neils, the Keans, and the Kembles. All—boxes, galleries, pit—blazing, for a short space, as the red apparition of what they were, and shedding an unearthly hue over every association connected with them—then, ere the eye was satisfied, toppling down, and crumbling into darkness, dust, and ashes! No more cat-calls from the galleries—no more smiles from the boxes—no more groans from the pit!
Kvery thing, as we said, was consumed. Among the rest, that same drop-scene which has led us unexpectedly to speak of the matter. A desperate attempt was made to save it, but in vain; and, for the sake of "the unities," it was perhaps as well, that it did not, like Caleb Balderston, survive the extinction of the house to which it was so long attached. The little engraving, herewith given, cannot be supposed to convey a proper notion of Nasmyth's great drop-scene; for, besides the difference of size, the subject is taken from a somewhat different position, and is differently handled. But with a few, it may tend to bring Nasmyth's painting into remembrance—and at all events, we imagine, it has claims of its own to especial regard.