THERE can be no stronger proof of the influence of beautiful scenery and rich costumes on an audience, and of the popularity of JANES SHERIDAN KNOWLES, than the degree of success that attended the pro- duction of his new comedy at Covent Garden on Tuesday. The title, Old Maids, has been bestowed according to the rule of contraries ; the two spinsters being not only young, fair, and noble, but such ardent candidates for matrimonial felicity that they both fall in love extempore, and moreover, teach their respective swains how to pay court to them. In effect, the drama resembles a masquerade, where no one person figures in his own character, and each undergoes a metamorphosis with every change of dress : there is movement without life, action, or pro- gression ; persons come in and go out, and do and say certain strange things, with no intelligible motive ; holding long dialogues in the quaint phraseology peculiar to Mr. KNOWLES, and interchanging broken reminiscences of passages from the author's plays, which in many in- stances have but slight relation to the business of the scene. Expecta- tion kept the audience alive on the first night ; but there was very little to repay their attention, or that elicited applause, apart from the clever- ness of the performers and the magnificence of the spectacle : at the close some hisses mingled with the applause, which was by no means general and hearty. Madame VESTRIS as Lady Blanche, and Mrs. NISBET as Lady Anne, are the would-be Old Maids ; and their looks no less than actions belie their aspirations, fur two more arch and wicked candidates for celibacy never broke vestal-vows. Sir Philip Brilliant, a fop and courtier of the first water—a military Sir Plume, "justly vain of the nice conduct," not "of a clouded cane," but a polished rapier—having been three years an unsuccessful suitor of Lady Blanche, solicits Lady Anne to teach him how to woo her friend: she proceeds to catechize him, when forthwith this pink of coxcombs is transformed into a bashful simpleton, and instructress and scholar at once fall-plump over head and ears in love with each other. Meanwhile, Lady Blanche recognizes in Sir Philip's friend, Colonel Blount, a certain goldsmith's son, who had cast sheep's eyes at her across his father's counter, and with whom she had flirted in the disguise of a "yeoman's maid "—as being the most likely customer for jewellery : but the gallant Colonel—whose rise from the shop to the command of a regiment has been singularly rapid—is so desperately smitten with the little red-riding-hood, that he does not know the face out of it : poor Lady Blanche tries all ber arts to awaken his senses to her identity, and dresses herself as a man to plead her own
cause, but in vain ; until it occurs to her to try the red cloak, when no sooner is her face concealed by the hood than the blind man's eyes are opened to her charms I This is certainly the strongest case of judicial blindness in a lover on record ; such a phenomenon well deserved to be the hero of a play in which so many extraordinary incidents occur. Mr. G. VANDENHOFF, who reappeared on this occasion, as Thomas Blount, personates the aspiring apprentice with a manly grace and sober earnestness, not the less appropriate for a degree of heaviness, that we hope will not extend to other characters where such a trait of uncourtly breeding would be unbecoming: he delivered his share of the dialogue with a quiet earnestness that bespoke both feeling and force, though his tone was occasionally too subdued ; and he made as strong an impression as such apart was calculated to produce. Mr. G. VANDENHOFF, though yet deficient in fire and animation, has personal and mental requisites to qualify him, by diligent study and practice of his art, to fill the void left by CHARLES KEMBLE. CHARLES MATHEWS, on his first entrance as Sir Phillip Brilliant, called forth a round of applause by the gallant style in which he did the honours of a court- suit of Charles the First's time, profusely garnished with lace and ribands, and a hat one sea of plumes. The scene in which the dashing cavalier, piqued by the spirit and boldness of the young goldsmith in vindicating his father, invited Thomas to an encounter with rapiers, is the most effective in the whole play ; and owes its effectiveness mainly to the elegance and address of CHARLES MATHEWS'S fencing : the ease and self-possession with which he parries the vigorous thrusts of the fiery young cit, applauding the while his antagonist's skill and counselling him to take it coolly, are inimitable. HARLEY has a part to play in a farcical underplot, so stale and absurd that the audience resented being forced to laugh at : be is the gold- smith's elder son John Blount, who from a plodding drudge and shrewd money-getter is suddenly transformed into an upstart spendthrift—a mere zany, the dupe of a set of servants passing themselves off as their masters and mistresses. The humour of the part consists in qualifying his boastings by repeating the catch-phrase, " If there is one thing more than another that I pride myself upon, it is Not even Mrs. HIIMBY'S affectation of flue lady airs could redeem this episode. Farce is not SHERIDAN KNOWLES'S forte, and his phraseology is too ponderous for light comedy.
The writing of this play is nearly as indifferent as the construction of the plot : in many parts it reads like a burlesque of the nondescript style which Mr. Knowaas too much affects, that belongs to no- age, and is neither blank verse nor plain prose. Menials and courtiers all speak alike ; inverting the order of words, using alternately pare= phrase and ellipsis, and dealing in rhetoric run to seed. - We will quote an example of these defects, from a scene in which the Goldsmith is rated by his wife for not giving her favourite son his way. MISTRESS BLOUNT.
Reird I not words? I did; what's wrong with Thomas? John has been chafing him again. He 's not The boy to bear it, nor is 't right he should.
The shop don't fit him, husband. Thou wouldst put Thy turnspit to his use, thy hound to his :
Did any counsel thee exchange their work, Thou'dst think him fool didst thou not call him one.
Thy cart-horse foal when thou didst set to cart, Thou didst the thin.' was wise : as wisely didst To break thy jennet's filly for the saddle; As beast of draught she were not worth her meat. _ Givest ear to me? dost weigh my words?
Ida MISTRESS BLOUNT.
And if thou dost, thou wilt not find them light. And dost perceive the sequel ?
I am sure
Thou dost not. Never canst thou see the thing That lies not straight before thee. Ope thine eyes, And I will put the sequel in their range Point-blank. Men vary more than horse or dog. Not as the parentage the progeny. The noble's cradle rocks a churl, the churl's A nobleman. A simple craftsman thou, Hest son the craft was never made would fit; And he must drudge because his father did!
Not only is the ear annoyed by reiteration of " didst" and " wonldst " and " dost" in this passage, but the very sense escapes the auditor. In the first scene there is a dialogue between Sir Philip and his servant all about a wrinkle in his jerkin, that fills four pages of print, in which the word " wrinkle" occurs no fewer than a dozen times. There are a few good things and a fine passage or two scattered through the five acts—as how should there not he?—bat all are more or less marred by these and other deformities of style ; and there is little so felicitous in expression or original in thought as to be worth quoting. The scenery is an exhibition of itself: in architecture, Messrs. Garavz are unrivalled on the stage. The interiors and exteriors recal the magnificence of the Elizabethan age : the garden-front of a fine old English mansion with gabled roofs and a court surrounded by Italian arcades, a stately gallery adorned with sculpture, and a sitting- room hung with blue velvet and paintings and furnished with ebony and crimson, are the most sumptuous of the "set scenes." A view of a conduit without the City-gates, showing old St. Paul's in the distance, is an imaginative picture of suburban London in the days when the wall was the boundary of the city. In short, all that taste and liberality could do to set off the play to the best advantage has been accomplished by the management ; and as a spectacle merely, it is well worth seeing.