« AnteriorContinuar »
"kind, that it is more truly august in proportion to "the extent of its influence, and the number that is "properly affected by it, as it is more truly great to "be the instrument of good to many who stand in "need of our assistance, than to a very small part of "that number."
I have no doubt of your being convinced of the utility of this lower kind of Tragedy as you have established the strength of Lillo's argument by your own practice. The encouragement you gave to Moore's Tragedy of the Gamester will be an acknowledged proof of what I assert, and I have reason to believe that some successful scenes in that pathetic play were indebted to you for more than their representation.
It was the misfortune of Lillo to compose many of his plays during a period when the stage was governed by two managers of very opposite taste, but equally inconsistent in their conduct with the interest of authors and actors, and the reasonable entertainment of the public.
The one, it is said, had early imbibed a strange dislike to plays and players; either from some par- ticular prejudices which cannot now be easily ascer tained, or, which is more probable, from any uncommon fondness for an exotic species of Theatrical entertainment, called Pantomime: It is confessed that he carried this excrescence of the stage to its utmost perfection, and was universally esteemed a most excellent performer in the mummeries of his own contriving.
Besides, it cannot be denied that the same man was
a happy superintender of all pomps and ceremonies; be excelled in planning magnificent shews, such as coronations and triumphal entries, christenings, marriages and funerals, and all kind of processions, and spared no cost to decorate them.
His rival manager of the other theatre was so far from having the least relish for dramatic poetry, that although he was a gentleman of birth and fortune, one easy in his behaviour and polite in his address, his greatest pleasure consisted in the encouragement of low athletics and mean buffoons, of wrestlers and boxers, of dancers and tumblers, by whose assistance and advice, he brought all Sadlers Wells upon the stage, and gave various exhibitions of tall monsters and ridiculous mountebanks.
It must be granted that during the period I am speaking of, that is, from 1734 to 1739, this manager was prevailed upon to act Lillo's Christian Hero and that he revived several of Shakspeare's Plays; particularly, As You Like It, and the Merchant of Venice, in which Quiu, Macklin, Chapman, Mrs. Pritchard and Mrs. Clive, appeared to great advantage.
With such managers Lillo's plain sense and unaffected manners could hope for little encouragement.
Had he lived to see the happy revolution in the government of the Theatre introduced by you, he would have rejoiced to behold the greatest genius and most indefatigable industry constantly employed to render the stage respectable as well as flourishing, and the most consummate actor and judicious mana
ger not only the avowed patron as well as kind instructor of actors, but the friend and fellow labourer of authors.
Lillo's modesty would have profited by the advice your perfect knowledge of the Drama would have suggested to him, and his gratitude and integrity would have done justice to your candor and sagacity; for he would not only have taken a liberal advantage of your criticisms, but would have freely owned the force and value of them..
That you may long continue to live beloved and respected by all ranks of people, and happy in the consciousness of exerting your abilities for public and private good, is the sincere and hearty wish of
Great Russell Street, 1775.
YOUR MOST OBEDIENT
SOME ACCOUNT OF
Mr. GEORGE LILLO.
THERE is no passion more incident to our nature than the desire of knowing the actions of men, whose genius has raised our admiration, and whose labours have given us instruction or entertainment. But however willing we may be to indulge so agreeable a curiosity, there are few authors, the history of whose lives can afford sufficient anecdotes to fill a reasonable volume. Such indeed as have been distinguished by offices in the government of a kingdom, or such as have embraced particular party principles, or have sided with factions in the state, will always create materials for the biographer, and amusement for the reader.
Selden and Grotius, two eminent writers of the last century, were as much distinguished by their misfortunes and their struggles with power, as for their genius and learning. Waller was a senator and a statesman, as well as a polite scholar and a great poet. Swift, the friend and coadjutor of Harley and Bolingbroke, took on himself the protection of a king
dom in opposition to a great minister.--We peruse with pleasure the lives of writers whose transactions *re varied and multifarious, who step from their studies into the great theatre of the world, and who join the love of business to the cultivation of polite literature. But such examples are rare. Addison and Pope were certainly great authors, but who can read with pleasure the cold yet correct narrative of Addison's life by Tickel? and when we have reduced the bulky memoirs of Pope, compiled by Ruffhead, to its genuine size, how little will remain that belongs properly to the subject? The remarks on Pope's writings composed by a very learned man, and which were purposely given to inrich this motley manufacture, do but more evidently expose the insipidity of the rest of the work, as the blaze of a torch serves to discover the deformities of a dungeon, Dr. Johnson has indeed struck out a new path to fame in this beaten road of literature, Biography. The uncommon misfortunes, turbulent passions, irregular conduct and unhappy fate of Richard Savage, son of Earl Rivers, gave birth to one of the finest compositions in our own or any other language.
It has generally been said that Lillo lived in obscurity and died in distress; variety of anecdote and choice of amusement cannot be expected from so unpromising a subject. The short account of Lillo in Cibber's Lives of the Poets, is the only record hitherto published which contains any thing certain or probable relating to him, but that is very defective and