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A Canzone from the Italian of Torquato Tasso.
“ Donne voi che superbe." Dames that in the dazzling glow
Of your youth and beauty go :
The iron sceptre of my power.
Mine the triumphs of your train,
To see the prostrate world adoring.
Time, your lord and enemy,
With his thousands by his side.
And iny spirit silently
To crumble with its kindred clay.
On, for ever and for aye-
Soon shall come that fatal hour
When, beneath my arm of power,
Soon, like capuives, shall ye learn
Ways less wild, and laws more stern;
your carols and your dances;
humbled captives wear.
That reflecting ere too late,
Keep my course eternally.
My swift winged Family,
ON THE GREEN-ROOM OF THE FRENCH THEATRE. The world progresses somewhat like a snail : it makes an immense journey of some inches during the day, and falls back at night to its original position, that it may set out with the same vigour on the same path the next morning. Both animals leave behind them vestiges of their travel—the one its slimy, the other its inky annals; and it is hard to say which, in its proper proportion, is the more lasting, or the more perishable. Look at the history of revolutions, their commencement, and termination at the very point whence they set out.—Does not this universe resemble a slate, on which some Tyro of a spiritual order, mightier than ours, has been learning his arithmetic, drawing thereon huge sums in multiplication and division, and anon blotting all out in an instant with his fore-finger and spittle? But a truce with simile:What have all these upsets and overthrows of nations left us? They have left to us essayists the neatest heads of chapters ;—to chronologists the most convenient epochs imaginable. There is no knowing what history would do without them: they are its goals and starting-posts, and resemble the ancient temple on Cape Colonna-once the mighty object of worship and witness of great events, now but a beacon to guide the solitary mariner.
Every one that wishes to take a survey of France, political or literary, places himself in the year 1789, and casts his view over the preceding or the subsequent age, as circumstances induce him. We shall do both, merely throwing a glance back, but thenceforward giving more in detail the history of the French stage. The year 1789 is complete as a stage epoch in France, since it not only marks the commencement of the revolution, but is the very year of the rise of Talma, who has ever since held his station of pre-eminence. Extreme convenience in the arrangement of epochs and eras is, indeed, remarkable all through the literary history of France, and is principally owing to the three great reigns, during which the literature of the country was brought nearest to its perfection; as also to the long lives and regular succession of its men of genius. In tragedy the names of Corneille, Racine, Voltaire, occupy, with little interruption, the whole extent of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Moliere marks the rise of comedy; but as France never found a successor worthy of their great comic writer, this portion of their literary history is more confused. Moliere died in 1673, and it was not till twenty-three years subsequent that the Joueur of Regnard appeared, which play was considered to revive the glory of comedy. Since Regnard, French comedy has not risen (we speak according to the estimation of their own critics) above the rank of mediocrity, with, however, a few exceptions; such as Gresset's Mechant, which Gray has recorded to be the best comedy he ever read, Piron's Métromanie, and, perhaps, the lively productions of Beaumarchais.
The most eminent of their tragic actors before 1789 was Le Kain, a singular coincidence of name with our present theatric genius; but we shall find stronger marks of coincidence than that of name. “ Le Kain," says Mademoiselle Clairon, “a simple artizan, of mean and unprepossessing appearance, below the middle height, hoarse in voice, and weak in temperament, leaped from the workshop to the stage, without any other guide than genius ;-without any assistance beyond his own powers, became the greatest of tragedians, and, in spite of all his defects, appeared the finest, the most imposing, the most interesting of men.”
Henri-Louis Le Kain was born in Paris in 1729, and made his first appearance on the Théatre Français in September 1750. He had previously matured his powers on the boards of the Théatre Rue Iraversière, where he received and profited by the lessons of Voltaire. His first success raised against him, as usual in such cases, a crowd of enemies, who decried and opposed him. “ How," said Louis the Fifteenth to one of those, “ how can you speak thus of Le Kain ? He has made me weep-me, who scarcely ever shed a tear.” With great defects of voice and figure, and with nothing external to support his genius, except his eye and action, Le Kain met with the most rapturous success. He could not play Corneille, “ Racine was too simple for ‘him,” but in the plays of Voltaire he shone forth and electrified the audience. That poet never enjoyed the pleasure of seeing Le Kain on the Théatre Français: he had set out on his visit to Russia just before the actor's debut, and on his return to Paris from Ferney, Le Kain was no more:-He died in 1778.
It is impossible not to mention Baron, the rival and predecessor of Le Kain, whom every reader will instantly compare with Kembłe. The French critics, however, do not consider their rival actors to have been so much on a par as we do Kemble and Kean. Baron had the advantage of being educated for the stage by Molière. He possessed great
dignity and beauty of person, and, though at first declamatory,“ yet as he mingled with the most illustrious ranks of society, true and simple grandeur became familiar to him.”* • As soon as he appeared,” says
Marmontel, one forgot alike both actor and poet: the majestic beauty of his features and action spread an illusion over the
When he spoke, it was Mithridates or Cæsar: every tone and gesture was that of nature," &c. “ In fine, he first displayed the perfection of his art—a simplicity and nobleness united—a manner tranquil without being cold, and spirited without being immoderate; marking the nicest shades of sentiment, at the same time concealing the art which produced them.” Baron died of a mortification, in consequence of a wound which he received in the foot while performing.
Mademoiselle Clairon, in her Memoirs, asserts, that it is more difficult to procure good actors than good actresses. So competent a judge in the case could not have been mistaken as to the fact, so far as it related to the stage of her own country. She does not, however, make the principle very general; nor does she attribute it to the peculiar nature and genius of the sexes, so much as to the different manner in which they are brought up. “ Male actors,” says she, “ require to bring to their art a degree of education which the generality of men do not possess. Women have more advantages, for, commonly speaking, education is much the same for all ranks of their sex, that are not decidedly of the lower order." There does not seem to be much force in the reasoning, as it is likely that the education of men in general was not much inferior to that average information, which, she tells us, was possessed by all ranks of her sex. Indeed we should be inclined to adopt the opinion contrary to that of Mademoiselle Clairon. In persons of different sexes, possessing the common run of talent, we should suppose a superior portion of tact and sensibility on the female side ; and a view of our stage will not contradict the opinion, considering how much more numerous the breeches-parts (to speak the dialect of the green-room,) are than the others. In genteel comedy, the ladies ought to have the palm ; in low comedy, the gentlemen : for, not to mention the inaptness of a female face for grimacing, there are certainly more originals among the lords of the creation. In the second-rate parts of tragedy, and all beneath, female talent has decidedly the advantage; and as to the genius capable of filling our first-rate characters, it is a quality so rare, and our experience in the case is, unfortunately, so confined, that no general conclusion can be drawn, save that of being thankful wherever we meet it.
The tragic actresses contemporary with Le Kain, were Dumesnil and Clairon. They have both published Memoirs, in which each severely criticises, yet, at the same time, does justice to the merits of her rival. † Mademoiselle Dumesnil had the possession of the stage first, and for a long time left Clairon but the inferior parts, which the latter never forgave. They were of pretty equal merit, but Clairon, not possessing the same advantages of face and person with her rival, claims higher praise for her success. Dumesnil retired from the stage in 1776, and
Mémoire de Mademoiselle Clairon. † Any person that is fond of ghost-stories will find a very curious, and a very well attested one, at the commencement of the Mémoires de Mademoiselle Clairon.
Clairon soon after followed her example, owing to one of those quarrels which her furious temper was continually exciting behind the scenes. They both died in the same year, 1803.
The principal comic performers of the same period were Preville, Molé, and Mademoiselle Dangeville. Preville, like Le Kain, owed his rise to royal discernment and patronage. It is some honour to Louis the Fifteenth, that if he despised Voltaire, he had critical foresight enough to descry the talents of the two great actors of his reign, and constancy enough to support them against cabal. After his Majesty had seen Preville perform at Fontainbleau, he turned to the Duc de Richelieu-" I have received many comedians on your account, Messieurs, gentlemen of the chamber: this one shall be on my own.” Preville was born in Paris, 1721, and received his early education in the Abbey St. Antoine, the reverend inhabitants of which monastery were greatly shocked afterwards to learn, that their seminary could have reared so graceless a being as a first-rate comedian. Like Ben Jonson, he handled a trowel in his youth, but soon made his way to the profession most suited to him. It was at Rouen he perfected himself in his art, and the Norman critics have not ceased to be proud of having reared him: but they by no means confine their pride to this, for, like the smaller fry of critics in Edinburgh and Dublin, they look with consummate disdain on metropolitan taste. If you believe themselves, they are the only judges of the drama, both as to acting and writing, in the same way that the best French is said to be spoken at Lausanne, and the best English in America. Preville appeared at the Théatre Français in 1753, and retired in 1786. He however re-appeared at intervals, with a very pardonable breach of resolution, and died in 1799. Although the actors of that day all seem to have possessed great versatility of talent, and which, indeed, could not have been very difficult and wonderful, considering the sameness, theuniversal rhyme and recitation of French plays, Preville excelled in low comedy, Molé in genteel. In reading the accounts of these two actors, one is surprised to learn, amidst traits of their comic power, that Stukelli and Beverley were two famous parts of theirs, which fact quite overturns a tacit comparison we had been making between Preville and Munden. The account given of Preville in the scene of Larissole in the Mercure Galant, where he enters as a drunken soldier, so strongly reminds one of Nipperkin, that the comparison is unavoidable.
Molé was born in 1734, appeared on the Théatre Français 1760, and died in 1802. This is rather a summary recapitulation of the life of a great actor, but we dread to weary our readers with details of success in parts, the names of which even they, perhaps, neither know nor care about. It is sought chiefly in this retrospect, to mark the principal comedians, as well as the period of their respective reigns. Mademoiselle Dangeville, like Clairon, left the Opera for the Comedy: she retired from the stage as early as 1763; between which period and the appearance of Mademoiselle Mars, the present comic heroine of the theatre, there occurs no female performer of first-rate reputation, though Mademoiselles Contat and Joly were much admired in their day.
The year 1789 effected a revolution in the theatre and its members, as well as in all other ranks and bodies of men. Previously considered as merely a part of the royal household, the theatre was governed