BIOGRAPHY OF ma. CHARLES KEAN.* 7HE biographer of Mr. Charles Kean writes avowedly under the
influence of " years of uninterrupted private friendship, and pro- fessional association of the most intimate nature." Au impartial work is not to be expected under these circumstances, but it does not by any means follow that the bias with which Mr. Cole has written is on the whole a false one, or that his book is without value as a contribution to the dramatic history of our times. If
he is too laudatory, the antidote to his excessive praise has been provided beforehand, and perhaps in more than needful measure, for Mr. Kean has certainly not been unduly petted by the press. Few men who have attained eminence in their profession have won their way in the teeth of such bitter and persistent oppo- sition ; and now that his theatrical career is closed, and hostile critics have said their last word against him, it may be desirable for the adjustment of the balance that a friend should be heard elaborately pleading on the other side. Mr. Cole, in his capacity of advocate for Mr. Kean, takes pains to depreciate the hostile criticism with which the tragedian was pursued, and to show that what was once said of his client—that he was " constantly patronized by the Court and higher classes, and constantly sa- tirized by the wits "—is to be received with considerable reduc- tion as regards the latter clause. Among the writers of numerous letters commendatory of Mr. Kean's performances which he quotes at full length are Lockhart, Merivale (one of the translators of the Greek Anthology), Lady Morgan, Lord Meadowbank, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, &c. But perhaps the most enviable tribute ever paid to Mr. Kean's genius was that which is recorded in the following extract.
"On one of the most triumphant repetitions of Macbeth at the Princess's Mr. C. Kean received a compliment equally unexpected and agreeable. Mademoiselle Rachel happened to be present in a private box. He knew that she formed one of the audience, and played his best in consequence. When the play ended, she came round to lus dressing-room for peisonal in- troduction. Her praises were poured forth with all the ardour of appre- ciating genius, and wound-up with this enthusiastic ebullition, Permettez queje TOM embrasse.' Such a request demanded instant compliance, and the fraternal salute was most cordially exchanged between the two great artists. The incident recalls a similar one that happened when Garrick visited Paris. In a private party at the house of Mademoiselle Clairon, the Rachel of her day, he was asked to gratify the company by a specimen of his powers. He rose at once, and gave the dagger soliloquy from 'Macbeth,' without preparation or arrangement. The spectators were electrified, and Clairon, although unacquainted with the English language, was so excited by the expressive action and features, that she caught Garrick in her arms, and kissed him. Mrs. Garrick, who was present, and frequently related the 'story, invariably added, 'All were surprised, but David and I were de- lighted.' " Even critics are not exempt from human infirmity, and there- fore it may sometimes happen that the theatrical notices of a newspaper are tinctured by the personal antipathies or pre- dilections of the writers ; but the very conditions on which the press exists afford a sufficient guarantee against systematic injustice to artists. It is Mr. Cole's cue, however, to make the most of exceptional offences against the general rule of journalistic criticism ; but the exceptions he quotes confirm the rule. For in- stance, he adduces eight cases occurring within a space of eight times as many years, in which newspapers published detailed criticisms, favourable or unfavourable, of performances that never took place. Stephen Kemble during his management of the theatre at Newcastle-on-Tyne, and Jackson, an Edinburgh manager, brought actions for libel against newspapers which as- sailed them in this haphazard way, and recovered heavy damages. An action on similar rounds against a London weekly newspaper in 1805 was compromised for a payment of 501. to the theatrical fund. During the summer of 1857 there appeared in a morning paper a glowing. description of the first performance of Madame Bono and Mario at the Lyceum, in La Traviata—a piece which had been announced, but unexpectedly withdrawn. On the next day an editorial apology announced the summary discharge of the inventive reporter. The same sort of thing happened in 1851 when Bona was last in London. His acting on a certain night when sudden illness prevented him from acting at all, was extolled in a manner which the reporter imagined to be perfectly safe ; and not many months since, a daily paper animadverted most harshly on the singing of an eminent tenor in Haydn's "Creation" at Exeter Hall. He had been announced, but was absent from severe indisposition.
No good actor was ever put down by unfair criticism, nor would it 'be for the interest of the stage to put down fair criticism, if the thing were possible. At all events, it is too late in the day to go back to the practice of David Garrick, in times when news- papers were few in number, and used to subsidise the theatres, instead of receiving payment from them for their advertisements. Henry Woodfall, publisher of the Public Advertiser, in which Garrick was a shareholder, has recorded in his ledger that " the papers paid 2001. a year to each theatre for the accounts of new plays, and would reward the messenger with a shilling or half-a- crown who brought them the first copy of a playbill."
" Mrs. Garrick frequently visited at [Edmund] Kean's house, in Clarges Street; and one day, making a morning call, she found the tragedian in the drawing-room in a state of unusual excitement. He received his guest rather abruptly and retired. The old lady's eyes followed him with some astonish- • The Life and Theatrical Ainesof Charles Kean, F.S.A: Including a summary of the English Stage for the last Fifty Years, and a detailed account of the Manage- ment of the Princess's Theatre. By John William Cole. In two volumes. Pub- lished by Bentley. meat, and turning to Mrs. Kean she said, in her broken English, What is the matter with your husband ? he seems disturbed.' Oh,' replied Mrs. Kean, you mustn't mind him ; he has just read a spiteful notice of his Othello in one of the newspapers, which has terribly vexed him.' But why should he mind that ? ' said Mrs. Garrick ; 'he is above the papers, and can afford to be abused.' Yes,' observed Mrs. Kean ; but he says the article is so well written : but for that, he wouldn't care for the abuse.' 'Then, my dear Mrs. Kean, he should do as David did, and he would be
spared this annoyance.' What's that ? ' exclaimed the anxious wife, with intense eagerness. ' Write the articles himself : David always did so.' "
As Mr. Cole professes to write not only of Charles Kean, but also of his " theatrical times," and has given a pretty wide mean- ing to this phrase, he has been enabled to weave into his plan a good deal of curious and suggestive stage gossip and tradition. Some of Kemble's crotchets were absurd enough, and he was so dogmatic that he refused to abandon them on evidence. In Hamlet he wore the badge of the Order of the Elephant, insti- tuted by Christiern I. in the latter half of the fifteenth century, and a modern star on his cloak, like that belonging to an Eng- lish order of knighthood. Besides the anachronism he thus com- mitted, he overlooked the obvious fact that if it were proper for Hamlet to wear these appendages, a fortiori the King ought to be decorated in the same fashion. In Hotspur Kemble wore the Garter, and persisted in doing so though it was proved to him that Hotspur was not a knight of the order. Elliston, who had followed Kemble's example, ceased to do so when the error was made known to him.
" We believe Charles Kean was the first actor of Hamlet of any note who gave up the old traditionary custom of having a stocking down-gyved to the ankle,' during that part of the play when he assumes a disordered in- tellect—a piece of literal rendering sufficiently vulgar, and certainly more honoured in the breach than the observance. Garrick, though a professed reformer, indulged freely in these stage trickeries. It is recorded that in the closet scene with the Queen, he had a mechanical con- trivance by which his chair fell, as if of itself, when he started upon the sudden entrance of the Ghost. Henderson, his immediate successor in the part, rejected this practice, and his doing so was called d by the critics of the day, a daring innovation. Garrick, with all his brilliant genius, was a very methodical actor ; when he bad once settled in what is technically called business' of a part, he never altered it. In the play- scene, when he satisfies himself that he has detected the guilt of the King, he wound up his burst of exultation at the close by three flourishes of his pocket-handkerchief over his head, as he paced the stage backwards and forwards. It was once remarked, as an extraordinary deviation, that he added a fourth flourish.
" Alison . . . in one of his volumes mentions that Garrick so studiously copied nature, that he acted _King Lear on crutches, but threw them away to give more complete effect to the great scene. *here on earth did the ingenious essayist and historian find his authority for this extravagance ?"
Doubtless he found it where he found a thousand other absur- dities, such as that Lessing, the creator of the national German drama, wrote plays in servile imitation of the French school ; that Victor Hugo is a most voluminous writer of novels; that the Empress Catherine II. was the mother of the late Grand Duke Constantine ; that the Volga empties itself into the Black Sea, &c. &c. One of the queerest theatrical crotchets was that of Montagne Talbot, a great favourite of the Dublin audiences, who played the Ghost in " Hamlet" with tin eyes fastened over his own to do away with speculation, " and moved with" a sort of revolving, ambient motion, under the idea that an immaterial, disembodied spirit should not stand as if fixed to the earth, but float etherially. "More than one Hamlet has been sadly discon- certed by this strange demeanour of his father's spirit."
"Kemble, when playing Hamlet, always instructed Guildenstern to attempt to exit before him in one of the scenes ; this breach of etiquette he checked by a severe look, and then walked off with dignity. He did some- thing of the same kind with Campeius, in the second act of Henry the Eighth ;' and both these arrangements of what is called stage-business,' were greatly lauded as profound readings of the author. They might have stood for such had there been one syllable in the text to warrant them, but as no such interpretations are there to be found, they must be looked upon as stage trickery, below the practice of a great actor. In Leon he made no scruple of kicking Cacafogo, but Cacafogo was not allowed to give the ori- ginal provocation, which utterly destroys the gist of the retort. If he had played Stukely, he might equally have objected to being struck by Lewson. When Mrs. Siddons assumed the part of the termagant Lady Loverule, for a benefit freak, she left out the strapping as the cobbler's wife. If perform- ers of the first class descend, for their own advantage, to what conventional critics call inferior roles, assuredly they ought to discharge them in their 'severe integrity ' or let them alone altogether."
When Mr. Cole condemned that piece of stage business in Henry VIII. as " stage trickery, below the practice of a great actor," he forgot, no doubt, that the very thing he condemned was done by Mr. Charles Kean, and that he was praised for it by the critic in the Times. The fatter is quoted, at second hand in- deed, in Mr. Cole's appendix, p. 391, as saying, " The look that he Charles Kean as Wolsey] darts at Campeggio, when the latter would walk before him, has a sort of Who the d— are you ?' about it that is inimitably consequential.t'
"The residents of the Northern Metropolis, or modernAthenians, as they delight to be called, have ever been slow and cold when sitting in critical judgment on new candidates for their favour ; but they are warm and steady when once that judgment is ipronounced. On Mrs. Siddons's first ap- pearance, the crowded pit sat in solemn silence throughout four-fifths of Isabella. Point after point, which had electrified the more susceptible Londoners, fell upon them without enkindling a flash, or exciting an ex- clamation. Eyes looked dull, and hands were quiet. The great actress was in despair, and had scarcely courage to go on. One burst more, with concentrated energy, and she paused for the result. Still a moment of silence, when a dictatorial voice from the pit exclaimed, That's no bad. This settled the guestion, and roused the whole house to applause, which fell fast and furious' from that moment to the end of the play."
The following anecdotes of the Dublin gallery are " no bad." "On an occasion when the gods were overcrowded on a benefit night, a loud clamour arose for relief, or more accommodation. After becoming diplomatic delay, the tardy manager appeared, and addressed them with the usual formula, 'What is your pleasure ? "None at all !' roared out a desen at once; 'but a d—d sight of pain, for we're all smothering here.'
"A new piece by Power had not made a very successful impression ; however, as usual, be was vociferously called for at the close, and an- nounced it for repetition with the customary plaudits. As be was retiring, an anxious admirer in the gallery called out, in a confidential tone, Ty- rone, a word in private—don't take that for your benefit. "