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Amenities of Literature ; consisting of Sketches and Characters of English Liters.
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D'ISBAELeS AMENITIES OF LITERATURE.
ABOUT half a century has elapsed since Mr. D'ISRAELI began his labours in a walk of literature then less trodden than at present, and supplied a public want by learned or learned-looking gossip on the Curiosities of Literature. At that time there were no quarterly reviews, no weekly literary journals, very little literature in the few newspapers; and the monthly reviews, whatever might be their critical and analytical merits, did not supply such superseding samples of books as may now be obtained from two or three peri- odicals. Whatever was gotten must be from the books themselves; which were comparatively few in number, displayed a gravity and formality resembling the manners of the age, and acted up to the general notion of what a mind ought to be which presumed to write a book. Anecdote, gossip, and rhetorical twaddle, but treat- ing about learned matters and wearing an air of learning, were welcome to an age when reading had become the fashion among a class which wanted time, energy, and industry to study. But things have changed since then. The curious parts of literary history have been examined with more acuteness, knowledge, and research, than Mr. D'ISRAELI has ever possessed; sometimes with as much popular treatment as he displays; and where the nature of the subject or the disposition of the author threw antiquarian heaviness over the whole, periodical writers were at hand to extract from the book its more interesting matter and give it to the reading public. The advantages of D'IsRAELI consisted in his being first in the field, as well as in his greater range of subjects, and in the more complete and systematic form with which he treated them. To write a more learned and a more logical book than the Curiosities of Literature would not be difficult ; but it would not now be received with the same favour, even if it were equally amusing.
A deterioration will not be borne, we apprehend, from the same author even with the advantage of a name iu his favour ; and the Amenities of Literature exhibits a very considerable falling off. The publication originated in the idea of a " history of our verna- cular literature." " It was my design," says Mr. D'ISRAELI, some- what pompously, "not to furnish an arid narrative of books or of authors, but, following the steps of the human mind through the wide track of time, to trace front their beginnings the rise, the pro- gress, and the decline of public opinions, and to illustrate, as the objects presented themselves, the great incidents in our national annals." This design was arrested by a heavy affiiction—the loss of sight ; but, probably, the injury to the public from the interrup- tion of the work has not been great. Mr. D'ISRAELI is quite un- equal to the task he chalked out, from a want of comprehension of mind and justness of perception, and, as persons more competent to decide than we are maintain, his deficiency in original learning. The Amenities of Literature contains a "portion of the projected history," and form a collection of papers on all and sundry subjects, from the Origin of the Druids to the True Intellectual System of the Universe. They resemble a series of articles in a review or magazine, except that in a severely-conducted periodical many of them would not be admitted, as telling nothing which was not known already ; and several of them would be considered unworkmanlike, as not conveying a sufficient account of the book or subject of which the paper professed to treat. Putting aside the correctness of the statements or the truth of the conclusions, the fault of the work is, that we have not gossipy facts, but the turgid views of a gossip. The first chapter, for example, is on the Druidical Institution ; of which it gives no more positive information than can be learned from almost any school history of England ; the rest consisting of notions or conjectures, expressed in high-sounding words—often set forth in such a manner as to appear like statements, and of course to deceive the ignorant, who will be unable to distinguish between facts derived from evidence and conclusions resting upon no higher authority than Mr. D'Isaasn's inferences. The next section, on Britain and the Britons, is more defective than the first ; being mere rhetorical rigmarole. The only exceptions to this cen- sure are such recondite matters as the etymology of the name of Britain, and the explanation of the word " triad." The truth seems to be, that Mr. D'Isaam.r is a whole generation behind-hand. He appears to have fancied that the world has stood still ever since he began his studies ; and tells, with the all-confident air of a man announcing a discovery little short of a revelation, the mere super- ficials of antiquity ; things quite as curious, and much profounder, being to be found in the late works of several ladies, and the pub- lications in Lardner's Cyclopedia presenting a much better and more satisfactory view of the rise and progress of English language and literature.
To give an account of the sixty or seventy papers which these volumes contain, would be uselessly tedious. They may, however, be reduced to three classes or epochs. The first volume, com- mencing, as we have said, with the Druidical Institution, goes through the Saxon, Anglo-Saxon, Norman, Anglo-Norman, and old English periods, and closes with HENRY the Seventh. The second volume treats chiefly of the age of the TUDORS prior to the origin of the Elizabethan drama and the appearance of SHAK- SPERE. The third volume embraces SHAKSPERE and some of his dramatic contemporaries, with BACON, RALEIGH, Dr. DEE, and a variety of miscellaneous topics connected with the earlier part of
the seventeenth century. The general mode of treating each epoch is much the same : the author endeavouring to illustrate it by a character or an intellectual production, or both combined—as
CHAUCER ; or by a general subject—as the Origin of the English Language ; or some topic, which in his idea should embody the influential classes of the age, and enable him to depict their modes of life—as "the Page, the Baron, and the Minstrel." Some of
these papers are not much better than vain imaginings; others afford little information beyond what is everywhere accessible ; a few suggest a shadowy picture of the past, from the mode in which the subject is, as it were, massed, though the facts may be inaccurate and the statements not specific. And this quality of suggesting is about the chief utility of D'Isaasei.
The minute and painstaking trackings of Mr. BELTON CORNET into the correctness of many of the statements in the Curl- milks of Literature, and his crushing exposure of the author's
blunders, have doubtless raised many strong distrusts as to the accuracy of D'Isaanee The distrust will not be dissipated in
the mind of the attentive and informed reader by the Amenities of Literature; where questionable statements will continually be met. Some of these may be owing to ignorance, but others originate in
deeper defects, since they relate to matters on which it is im- possible to suppose anybody can be ignorant. The cause of these blunders seems to be, first, a logical deficiency—a mind incapable of apprehending the exact truth, and which naturally falls into looseness of statement either with or without a motive; second, a love of paradox—a wish to startle or surprise, and as Mr. D'Is- RAELI cannot attain his object by justness of remark he is driven to strangeness of assertion ; third, a love of rhetoric, which induces him to rank accuracy of statement and justness of conclusion as very subordinate to big words and euphonous periods. A full and minute exhibition of his failings from these causes we must leave to the learning and leisure of Mr. CORNET ; but we will give a
few instances of a looseness which renders Mr. D'IsEAELI a ques- tionable authority to follow, at the least, although BYRON and BULWER have pinned their faith to him.
Speaking of the Saxon Chronicle, be says-
" This precious relic has come down to us—the Saxon Chronicle ; but which in fact is a collection of chronicles made by different persons. These Saxon
annalists bad been eye-witnesses of the transactions they recorded ; and this singular detail of incidents as they occurred, without comment, is a phrenome- non in the history of mankind, like that of the history of the Jews contained in the Old Testament, and, like that, as its learned editor has ably observed, a regular and chronological panorama of a people described in rapid succession by different writers through many ages, in their own vernacular language.' The mutations in the language of this ancient Chronicle are as remarkable as the fortunes of the nation in its progress from rudeness to refinement; nor less observable are the entries in this great political register from the year 1 of Christ till 1154, when it abruptly terminates. The meagreness of the earlier recorders contrasts with the more impressive detail of later enlarged and thoughtful minds. When we come to 'William of Normandy, we have a cha- racter of that Monarch by one who knew him personally, having lived at his court : it is not only a masterly delineation, but a skilful and steady dissec- tion. The earlier Saxon chronicler has recorded a defeat and retreat which Caesar suffered in his first invasion, which would be difficult to discover in the Commentaries of Cresar."
That CZESAR received a check in Britain is very probable ; but if Mr. D'Isaam means to set up the Saxon Chronicle as evidence of the fact, let us remind him that the Saxons did not arrive in England till about five hundred years after this alleged fact, of which his naked text would make them " eye-witnesses." During those five hundred years the country was frequently invaded and finally subdued by the Romans, who destroyed the religion and literature of the Britons, and established their own customs and civilization : when they were compelled to abandon the country after ruling it for some four centuries, the land was first devastated by the barbarous Picts, and then by the Saxons them- selves, who ended by driving part of the surviving inhabitants into Wales and reducing the rest to submission. Take another example on another topic—the Origin of the Ver- nacular Languages of Europe. Everybody is aware that Latin, during the dark and middle ages, was the language of the learned : and the reasons seem obvious enough. Upon the establishment of the barbarians on the ruins of the Empire, and for many years afterwards, Latin was the only language which possessed a litera- ture, and was of necessity resorted to as the sole medium of book- learning : until the vernacular tongues assumed some form and co- piousness, ideas ever so little removed from the coramon could not probably he expressed in the common speech. These causes, of absolute necessity, were fostered by others, of prejudice, interest, and convenience. Latin was the language of religion, containing the only Scriptures then known to Western Europe, together with the forms of prayer : it was of great importance to the heads of the Romish Church to unite their clergy by as many ties as possible, and a common language was a very considerable bond : the use of Latin had also its conveniences, giving a writer (and it was only the learned in those days who either wrote or read) a public in every nation, whereas had he written in his native language, sup- posing that language adapted to his subject, his readers would have been greatly limited. As soon as an advancing society, introducing new objects and more complex relations, had given greater copious- ness to language, and the same circumstances had enlarged the ;minds and stimulated the curiosity of the people, they were ad-
dressed in their mother-tongue; the nature of the subjects gradu- ally advancing with the advancing knowledge of the people. But this is too simple and yet too complex a view for the author of the Curiosities of Literature.
"The predominant prejudice of writing in Latin," says he, "was first checked in Germany, France, and England, by the leaders of that great Revo- lution which opposed the dynasty of the tiara. It was one of the great results of the Reformation that it taught the learned to address the people. The versions of the Scriptures seemed to consecrate the vernacular idiom of every nation in Europe. Peter Waldo began to use the vernacular language in his version, however coarse, of the Bible for the Vaudois, those earliest Reformers of the Church ; and though the volume was suppressed and prohibited, a modem French literary historian deduces the taste for writing in the maternal tongue to this rude but great attempt to attract the attention of the people. The same incident occurred in our own annals; and it was the English Bible of Edward the Sixth which opened the sealed treasures of our native language to the multitude."
It should be observed, that between the translation of PETER WALD() (how does Mr. D'Isaasia know it was " coarse " ?) and that of EDWARD the Sixth there is the slight interval of nearly four centuries. But passing this, let us test the assertion by refer- ence to fact. In Italy the people were never publicly addressed on the subject of the Reformation, at least for any time ; but in Italy, PETRARCH, DANTE, and BOCCACIO, the three great classics of the language, and all learned men, had addressed their works to their countrymen, and the last of them had died (1375) more than a century before LUTHER was born (1483). In England, a person called CHAUCER had written some popular poems ; and another named GOWER had composed a book in the vernacular, it is said at the bidding of his King, some hundred and fifty years before the translation of the Bible under EDWARD; not to mention the " precious relic " the Saxon Chronicle, which was completed before any Reformation was even thought of. It would be quite as logical, if not more so, to argue that the Bible was translated because the people were qualified to be addressed in the "vernacular idiom."
But this is not all of D'Isalisu on the vernacular.
" The genius of Verulam, whose prescient views often anticipated the insti- tutions and the discoveries of succeeding times, appears never to have contem- plated the future miracles of his maternal tongue. Lord Bacon did not foresee that the English language would one day be capable of embalming all that philosophy can discover, or poetry can invent; that his country, at length, would possess a national literature, and exult in models of its own. So little did Lord Bacon esteem the language of his country, that his favourite works are composed in Latin ; and what he had written in English he was anxious to have preserved, as he expresses himself, in that universal language which may last as long as books last.' " What does the man mean by the "future miracles of his ma- ternal tongue," and that the "English would one day be capable of embalming all that poetry can invent "—that our country "would one day have a national literature of its own"? Many years before BACON'S death, HOOKER had shown what English could do in prose ; SPENSER and SmutspEas had invented some miracles in poetry, which we had fancied not yet equalled ; and SHAKSPERE'S contemporaries were supposed to have done something in the literary way. BACON himself, in certain Essays, had also shown some little knowledge of his mother-tongue. That he had a pre- judice in favour of Latin, or rather, that his love of being read as widely as possible might induce him to prefer it as a " universal" medium, may be true ; but if any one take the trouble to examine BACON'S works, it will be found that he varied his language accord- ing to his subject, upon the principle of convenience we have already spoken of. When he wrote essays, history, &c.—where he had the prospect of a wide and popular audience—where he came home to men's " business and bosoms "—he wrote English ; when he wrote philosophy, &c.—where he addressed the learned world—he wrote in a learned language.
These things, loose as they are, evidently arise from the innate logical deficiency, and the equally innate love for inflated rhetoric, which we have noted as characteristic of this writer ; since it is quite impossible that Mr. D'IsaAsei should be ignorant of the true facts on which he founds his false conclusions. These quali- ties are equally visible in his account of SHAKSPERE, but com- bined with an ignorance of the commonest facts in literary history, or the strangest disregard of them to be found amid all the "Curiosities of Literature." And as this gross and glaring mis- statement is made in the teeth of general opinion, and of facts accessible to all if not known to all ; as the writer's popularity is considerable, and his merit vouched for by men who influence the public—by SCOTT, BYRON, SOOTHEY, CROKER, BULWER, &C. ; it seems desirable to expose in detail such a daring misrepresenta- tion, if only to put people on their guard : for if Mr. D'Isiuser is thus lax where the evidence to convict him is at hand, we may infer his looseness in obscurer subjects. Thus lucubrates D'ISRAELI ON SHARSPERE.
"The vicissitudes of the celebrity of Shakspere may form a chapter in the philosophy of literature and the history of national opinions. Shakspere was destined to have his dramatic faculty contested by many successful rivals; to fall into neglect ; to be rarely acted and less read ; to appear barbarous and
; to be even discarded from the glorious file of dramatists by the anathemas of hostile criticism ; and finally, in the resurrection of genius (a rare occurrence!) to emerge into universal celebrity. This literary history of Shakspere is an incident in the history of the human mind singular as the genius which it relates to. The philosopher now contemplates the pliwno- menon of a poet who in his peculiar excellence is more poetical than the poets of every other people. We have to track the course of this prodigy, and if possible to comprehend the evolutions of this solitary luminary. • * * "The universal celebrity of Shakspere is comparatively of recent origin: re- ceived, rejected, and revived, we most ascertain the alternate periods, and we must look for the causes of the neglect as well as the popularity of the poet. We may congratulate ourselves on the numerous escapes of our national bard from the oblivion of bia dramatic brothers, The history and the works of
Shakspere, and perhaps the singularity of the poet's character in respect to his own writings, are some of the most startling paradoxes in literary history."
" Startling," no doubt, if there were a shadow of truth in all this ; but the "paradoxes " exist only in the writer's mind. We would wish the reader to reperuse the extract, and thoroughly to possess him- self with the assertions, that he may follow our disproof. We will take the dictum of the facile princeps in letters of each succeeding age to SHAKSPERE'S, and give from the highest authority a theatri- cal and popular opinion of SHAKSPERE for the best part of a cen- tury. The poet and the player, the classic and the hero of the Dunciad, shall be produced in court against this pretender to eru- dition, whose high-sounding assertions have imposed upon the lazi- ness of the "mob of gentlemen" from BYRON to BULWER : and we begin with SHAKSPERE'S own age.
On his death, BEN JONSON, SHAKSPERE'S former rival—a man notorious for "learning" in a learned age, and, with the exception of ARISTOTLE, one of the most critical minds that nature has pro- duced—wrote some verses to his memory. We take the more germane passages.
BEN JONSON ON SHAKSPERE.
- - - " I confess thy writings to be such,
As neither man, nor muse, can praise too much. 'Tis true, and all men's suffrage.
Soul of the age! The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage ! My Shakspere, rise I will not lodge thee by Chaucer, Dr Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie A little further off to make thee room : Thou art a monument without a tomb, And art alive still, while thy book doth live, And we have wits to read and praise to give. That I not mix thee so, my brain excuses, I mean with great but disproportioned muses; For if I thought my judgment were of years, I should commit thee surely with thy peers, And tell how far thou didst our Lily outshine, Or sporting Kyd, or Marlow's mighty line. And though thou hadat small Latin and less Greek, From thence to honour thee I will not seek For names; but call forth thundering Eschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles to us, Pacuvius, Accius, him af Cordoua dead, To live again, to hear thy buskin tread And shake a stage ; or when thy socks were on, Leave thee alone for the comparison Of all that insolent Greece or haughty Rome Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
Triumph, my Britain, thou haat one to show, To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe. He was not of an age, but for all time !"
This was written in the reign of Jellies the First. If the world were asked to select the loftiest name in letters both for the age of CHARLES the First and of the Commonwealth, it would point to MILTON; and though his praises of SHAKSPERE are known to all, we adduce them to complete the chain of evidence : the first passage has a further interest, as it indicates that the dramas of the two greatest poets were performed till the theatres were closed by the Commonwealth. MILTON ON SHAKSPERE.
"Then to the well-trod stage anon, If Jonson's learned busk be on, Or sweetest Shakspeare, Fancy's child, Warble his native weed-notes wild."—L' Allegro.
"What needs my Shakespeare for his honour'd bones The labour of an age in piled stones, Or that his hallowed reliques should be hid Under a starry -pointing pyramid ? Dear son of Memory, great heir of Fame, What needest thou such weak witness of thy name ?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment Has built thyself a live-long monument. For whilst to the shame of slow-endeavouring art Thy easy numbers flow, and that each heart Hath from the leaves of thy unvalued book Those Delphic lines with deep impression took, Then thou our fancy of itself bereaving, Dost make us marble with too much conceiving; And so sepulchred in such pomp dost lie, That kings for such a tomb would wish to die."—Epitaph.
We come to the Restoration, and to a totally different state of society—that of CHARLES the Second, and his immediate succes- sors. For this period, DRYDEN is unquestionably the most striking name in poetry and criticism ; and thus writes he, though prone to depreciate every brother dramatist.
DRYDEN ON SHAKSPERE.
" Shakespeare was the man who, of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously but luckily : when he describes any thing, you more than see it, you feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation : he was naturally learned; he needed not the spectacles of books to read Nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot say he is everywhere alike : were he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of man- kind. He is many times flat and insipid ; his comic wit degenerating into clenches, his serious swelling into bombast. But he is always great when some great occasion is presented to him : no man can say he ever had a fit subject for his wit and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of the poets, Quantum !cola solent inter viburua copressi.' "
Half a century passed : the STUARTS were expelled ; Darnsx died; and what has been called the Augustan age of English lite- rature succeeded, under ANNE and the earlier Brunswicks. Of this Augustan age Fora is undoubtedly the first polite author, both in the estimation of his own time and of posterity. See his opinion of SHAKSPERE' in the preface to an edition which he under- took to edite, in six volumes quarto, of this " neglected bard " who so narrowly escaped oblivion" ; the poet RowE having fifteen
years earlier (1709-10) published an edition of seven volumes octavo, which had to be reprinted in 1714. POPE ON SHAKSPERE.
"If ever any author deserved the name of an original, it was Shakspeare. Homer himself drew not his art so immediately from the fountains of nature : it proceeded through Egyptian streams and channels, and came to him not without some tincture of the learning or some cast of the models of those before him. The poetry of Shakspeare was inspiration indeed : he is not so much an imitator as an ;instrument of Nature ; and it is not so just to say that he speaks from her, as that she speaks through him. His characters are so much Nature herself, that it is a sort of injury to call them by so distant a name as copies from her. Those of other poets have a constant resemblance, which shows that they received them from one another, and were but multi- pliers of the same image: each picture, like a mock rainbow, is but the reflec- tion of a reflection. But every single character in Shakspeare is as much an individual as those in life itself; it is as impossible to find any two alike ; and such as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear most to be twine, will, upon comparison, be found remarkably distinct. To this life and variety of characters we must add the wonderful preservation of it; which is such throughout his plays, that had all the speeches been printed without the very name of the persons, I believe one might have applied them with certainty to every speaker.
" The power of an author over our passions was never possessed in a more eminent degree, or displayed in such different instances; yet all along there is seen no labour, no pains to raise them, no preparation to guide our guess to the effect, or be perceived to lead towards it ; but the heart swells, and the tears burst out just at the proper places. • " With respect to our author's want of learning it may be necessary to say something more. There is certainly a vast difference between learning and languages. How far he was ignorant of the latter, I cannot determine ; but it is plain he had much reading at least, if they will not call it learning. Not is it any great matter, if a man has knowledge, whether he has it from one lan- guage or another. Nothing is more evident than that he had a taste for na- tural philosophy, mechanics, ancient and modern history, poetical learning, and mythology. We find him very knowing in the customs, rules, and man- ners of antiquity. In Coriolauus and Julius Ccesar, not only the spirit but manners of the Romans are exactly known ; and still a nicer distinction is drawn between the manners of the Romans in the time of the former and of the latter. His reading in the ancient historians is no less conspicuous, in many references to particular passages ; and the speeches copied from Plutarch in Coriolanus, may, I think, as well be made an instance of his learning, as those copied from Cicero in the Coaling of Ben Jonson. The manners of other nations in general, the Egyptians, Venetians, French, &c. are drawn with equal propriety. Whatever objects of nature or branch of science he either speaks of or describes, it is always with competent, if not extensive knowledge: his descriptions are still exact ; all his metaphors appropriated, and remarkably drawn from the true nature and inherent qualities of each subject : where he treats of ethics or politics, we may constantly observe a wonderful justness of distinction, as well as extent of comprehension. No one is more a master of the poetical story, or has more frequent allusions to the various parts of it. The modern Italian writers of novels he was manifestly acquainted with ; and we may conclude him to lie no less conversant with the ancients of his own country, from the use he has made of Chaucer in Troilus and Cressida."
GEORGE the Third succeeded to the throne sixteen years after the death of Pops ; and for this period, till we suppose even Mr. DISRAELI will admit SHAKSPERE was in no apparent danger of " oblivion," Dr. JOHNSON may be rated not so much as the prin- cipal writer, but as dictator of public opinion—" the Great Chant of Literature " ; and what says he ? The preface to his edition— for he too undertook to edite this "neglected bard "—is so easily accessible, and would involve so much selection to bring out the force of the praise, that we will be content with referring to it, and only quote a few lines from his Prologue.
DR. JOHNSON ON SHAKSPERE.
" Each change of many-colour'd life he drew, Exhausted worlds, and then imagined new : Existence saw him spurn her bounded reign, And panting Time toil'd after him in vain ; His powerful strokes presiding Truth impress'd, And unresisted Passion storm'd the breast."
The reader now has before him the decisions in each succeeding age of the leading mind of that age—of men whose opinions influ- enced their contemporaries, whose works are held to advance the honour of their country, and whose names are familiar in our mouths as household words. If it be said that SHAKSPERE might be admired by the few, but not popular, this excuse can hardly avail Mr. DISRAELI ; but we will answer it. A casual couplet of POPE shows the estimation of the "neglected, rarely acted, and less read " SHAKSPERE, in the minds of the Manager BUNNS of the earlier part of the last century- " Shakespeare (whom you and every playhouse-bill -
Style the divine, the matchless, what you will)
For gain, not glory, winged his roving flight," &c.
And another passage indicates the almost superstitious estima- tion with which he was regarded by the former age-
" On Avon's bank, where flowers eternal blow, If 1 but ask if any weed can grow—
One tragic sentence if I dare deride, Which Betterton's grave action dignified, Or 411-mouth'd Booth with emphasis proclaims,
(Though but perhaps a muster-roll of names)—
How will our fathers rise up in a rage And swear all shame is lost in George's age!"
A note upon a man of the name of RALPH, who figured in the Dunciad, and subsequently cut some figure as a political journalist, also shows the high estimation of SHAKSPERE ; for it is that esti- mation which gives the story its sting- " James Ralph, a name inserted after the first editions, not known to our author till he writ a swearing-piece called Sawney, very abusive of Dr. Swift, Mr. Gay, and himself. These lines alluded to a thing of his entitled Night, a poem. This low writer attended his own works with panegyrics in the jour- nals; and once in particular praised himself highly above Mr. Addison, is wretched remarks upon that author's accounts of English Poets, printed in a London journal, 17th September 1728. He was wholly illiterate, and knew no language, not even French. Being advised to read the rules of dramatic poetry before fore he began a play, he smiled, and replied, ' Shakspeare writ without rule Turn now to the theatre—to players and playgoers. The Apology for the Life of Arr. Colley Libber contains his own dramatic career for fifty years ; and he introduces his narrative by an account of the stage for the preceding thirty years. The review is derived from a personal experience of fifty years as actor and manager, and such opportunities of acquiring information as a man like Crimea would possess for the first thirty. This account consists of a brief and rapid précis of the history of the stage, and critically- descriptive sketches of the actors. Whether his criticisms or con- clusions are correct, is not the issue. CIBBER may have been linable to estimate SHAKSPERE, or he may have exaggerated the merits of the veteran actors under whom he served in his youth : we adduce him to show that for eighty years—from the reopening of the theatres on the Restoration in 1660, till the publication of the Apology in 1739, when its author was approaching seventy- SHAKSPERE was in his opinion the undisputed sovereign of the drama, and the fact was so generally admitted that he does not deem it necessary formally to affirm the point. He constantly mentions SHAKSPERE as he might be mentioned now—as the first of dramatists, the touchstone of an actor's capabilities, the author
in whose characters the greatest actors were ambitious of excelling, and to whose delineations close and searching criticisms were
applied. He begins by assigning three reasons for the first success of the theatres on the Restoration,— their novelty ; the introduction of women on the stage; and the regulation of the two companies, with the good understanding between them ; &tax- WERE being instanced in each reason.
COLLET CIBBER ABOUT SHANSPElin.
" The one [advantage] was their immediate opening after the so long inter- diction of plays during the civil war, and the anarchy that followed it. What eager appetites from so long a fast must the guests of those times have had to that high and fresh variety of entertainments which Shakspeare had left pre- pared for them ! Never was a stage so provided. A hundred years are wasted, and another silent century well advanced, and yet what unborn age shall say Shakspeare has his equal? How many shining actors have the warm scenes of his genius given to posterity, without being himself in his action equal to his writing : a strong proof that actors, like poets, must be born such. Eloquence and elocution are quite different talents. Shakspeare could write Hamlet; but tradition tells us, that the Ghost in the same play was one of his best per- formances as an actor; nor is it within the reach of rule or precept to complete either of them. * • * ' " The other advantage I was speaking of is, that before the Restoration no actresses bad ever been seen upon the English stage. The characters of women on former theatres were performed by buys, or young men of the most effemi- nate aspect; and what grace or master-strokes of action can we conceive such ungain hoydens to have been capable of? This defect was so well considered by Shakspeare, that in few of his plays he has any greater dependence upon the ladies than in the innocence and simplicity of a Desdemona, an Ophelia, or in the abort specimen of a fond and virtuous Portia. The additional objects then of real, beautiful women, could not but draw a proportion of new admirers to the theatre. • * • • • 5 " Besides these peculiar advantages, they had a private rule or agreement which both houses were happily tied down to, which was, that no play acted at one house should ever be attempted at the other. All the capital plays, therefore, of Shakspeare, Fletcher, and Ben Jonson, were divided between them, by the approbation of the Court and their own alternate choice. So that when Hart was famous for Othello, Betterton had no less a reputation for Hamlet."
Now for the actors in this " rarely acted" dramatist. For although a particular actor, excelling in one particular character, is no proof of the general estimation of a dramatist, yet in the vase before us we have the leading actors of the period excelling in various characters, many other actors attempting those cha- racters with various success, and all evidently aiming at represent- ing the national dramatist, as the highest achievement of the his- trionic art. It may be added that BETTERTON, the Roscius of his day, entertained such veneration for the memory of SHAKSPERE as to make a journey into Warwickshire in order to collect wha, particulars were yet preserved of him, which information ROWE subsequently inserted in the life prefixed to his edition.
BETTERTON IN SHARSPERE'S CHARACTERS.
"Betterton was an actor, as Shakspeare was an author, both without com- petitors—formed for the mutual assistance and illustration of each other's genius. How Shakspeare wrote, all men who have a taste for nature may read and know ; but with what higher rapture would he still be read could they conceive how Betterton played him! Then might they know the one was born alone to speak what the other only knew to write. Pity it is that the momentary beauties flowing from an harmonious elocution cannot, like those of poetry, be their own record ; that the animated graces of the player can live no longer than the instant breath and motion that presents them, or at best can but faintly glimmer through the memory or imperfect attestation of a few survising spectators. Could how Betterton spoke be as easily known as what he spoke, then might you see the muse of Shakspeare in her triumph, with all her beauties in their best array, rising into real life and charming her beholders. But alas ! since all this is so far out of the reach of description, bow shall I show you Betterton ? Should I therefore tell you that all the Othellos, Hamlets, Hotspnrs, Macheths, and Brutuses, whom you may have Been since his time have fallen far short of him, this still would give no idea of his particular excellence. Let us see then what a particular comparison may do; whether that may yet draw him nearer to you. " You may have seen a Hamlet perhaps, who on the first appearance of his father's spirit has thrown himself into all the straining vociferation requisite to express rage and fury; and the house has thundered with applause, though the misguided actor was all the while (as Shakspeare terms it) tearing a passion into rags. I am the more bold to offer you this particular instance, because the late Mr. Addison, while I sat by him to see this scene acted, made the same observation, asking me with some surprise if I thought Hamlet should be in so violent a passion with the Ghost, which, though it might have astonished, had not provoked him ? For you may observe that in this beautiful speech the passion never rises beyond an almost breathless astonishment, or an impatience limited by filial reverence, to inquire into the suspected wrongs that may have raised him from his peaceful tomb, and a desire to know what a spirit so seem- ingly distressed might wish or enjoin a sorrowful sou to execute towards his future quiet in the grave. This was the light into which Betterton threw this scene; which he opened with a pause of mute amazement, then rising slowly to a solemn, trembling voice, he made the Ghost equally terrible to the spectator as to himself; and in the descriptive part of the natural emotions which the ghastly vision gave him, the boldness of his expostulation was still governed by decency, manly but not braving—his voice never rising into that seeming outrage or wild defiance of what he naturally revered. • * • " A further excellence in Betterton was, that he could vary his spirit to the different characters he acted. Those wild impatient starts, that fierce and flashing fire, which he threw into Hotspur, never came from the unruffled temper of his Brutus, (for I have more than once seen a Bratus as warm as Hotspur); when the Betterton Brutus was provoked, in his dispute with Cassius, his spirit flew only to his eye; his steady look alone supplied that terror which he disdained an intemperance in his voice should rise to. Thuty with a settled dignity of contempt, like an unheeding rock, he repelled upon himself the foam of Cassius. Perhaps the very words of Shakspeare will better let you into my meaning-
' Must I give way and room to your rash choler? Shall I be frighted when a madman stares?' And a little after- . There is no terror. Cassius. in your looks, (threats.)' he.
Not but in some part of this scene, where he reproaches Cassius, his temper is not under this suppression, but opens into that warmth which becomes a man of virtue ; yet this is that hasty spark of anger which Brutus himself endea- vours to excuse."
Here is another of SHAIISPERE'S good actors.
RYNASTON IN SHAKSPERE.
"Above this tyrannical tumid superiority of character, [Morat, in Dryden', Aurengzebe,] there is a grave and rational majesty in Shakspeare's Henry the Fourth, which, though not so glaring to the vulgar eye, requires thrice the skill and grace to become and support. Of this real majesty Kynaston was entirely master : here every sentiment came from him as if it had been his own, as if he had himself that instant conceived it, as if he had lost the player and were the real king he personated ; a perfection so rarely found, that very often in actors of good repute a certain vacancy of look, inanity of voice, or super- fluous gesture, shall unmask the man to the judicious spectator, who from the least of those errors plainly sees the whole but a lesson given him, to be got by heart, from some great author whose sense is deeper than the repeater's under- standing. This true majesty Kynaston had so entire a command of, that when he whispered the following plain line to Hotspur,
• Send t.t. your prisoners, or you II hear of it,'
he conveyed a more terrible menace in it than the loudest intemperance of voice could swell to. But let the bold imitator beware; for, without the look and just elocution that waited on it, an attempt of the same nature may fall to nothing.
" But the dignity of this chafaeter appeared in Kynaston still more shining in the private scene between the King and the Prince his son. There you saw majesty in that sort of grief which only majesty could feel ; there the paternal concern for the errors of the son made the monarch more revered and dreaded; his reproaches so just, yet so unmixed with anger, (and therefore the more piercing.) opening as it were the arms of nature, with a secret wish that filial duty and penitence awakened might fall into them with grace and honour. In this affecting scene I thought Kynaston showed his most masterly strokes of nature ; expressing all the various motions of the heart with the same force, dignity, and feeling, they are written ; adding to the whole that peculiar and becoming grace which the best writer cannot inspire into any actor that is not burn with it. What made the merit of this actor and that of Betterton more surprising was, that though they both observed the rules of truth and nature, they were each as different in their manner of acting as in their personal form. and features."
MRS. BETTERTON IN SHAKSPERE.
"Mrs. Betterton, though far advanced in years, was so great a'inistress of nature, that even Mrs. Barry, who acted the Lady Macbeth after her, could not in that part, with all her superior strength and melody of voice, throw out those quick and careless strokes of terror from the disorder of a guilty mind, which the other gave us with a facility in her manner that rendered them at once tremendous and delightful. Time could not impair her skill, though he had brought her person to decay. She was to the last the admiration of all true judges of nature and lovers of Shakspeare, in whose plays she chiefly ex- celled, and without a rival. When she quitted the stage, several good actresses were the better for her instruction."
These remarks relate to the period between the Restoration in 1660 and the beginning of the eighteenth century ; for BETTERTON died in 1700, Mrs. BETTER:roe soon after, and KYNASTON had ap- peared among the first actors on the reopening of the theatres. We could add to these quotations, but fferhaps our readers will now think that dramas played and studied in this manner were neither " neglected" nor in danger of " oblivion."
We intended to have offered some reply to the few things Mr. D'IsRABLI puts forward instead of arguments—such as the objections of pedantic critics, the alterations that have been made in some of SHAKSPERE'S dramas, or the music and spectacle that have been added. There are some other strange things we also intended to have noted; but we must leave the Amenities of Lite- rature to those who have more learning, more leisure, and more space.