THE LAST OF THE MIMES.
(BY A FOGEY.)
T WONDER whether there are many fogeys who were as much 1 moved as I was by the announcement the other day of the death of W. H. Payne, the last true Mime, so far as I know, of this country at least. There must, I should think, be not a few fogeys who, town-bred like myself, reckoned, some forty years ago, their eras from the pantomimes in which Payne took part, as Racing- men are said to reckon theirs by the winners of the Derby. But the present generation appear to me to know nothing of the art of acting in dumb-show, of which Mr. Payne was so great a muter. Nowadays, what they call " Pantomimea " are the ordinary "burlesques" in doggrel verse, combined with a conventional "ballet divertissement," and a tedious, though sometimes artistic, transformation-scene, and followed by two or three scenes of " harlequinade." Again, the old ballet, 'In which a story was regularly told without speaking, has disap- peared altogether from the Italian opera stage in London. In the days of us fogeys, things were very different. Without going back to the time of Mother Goose, when the "introduc- tion "of a Christmas Pantomime was comparatively unimportant, and the harlequinade everything, it may be said that the palmy days in England of Pantomime—by which I mean acting in dumb- show—culminated with the impersonations of Payne and some of his fellows, circa 1838-48. In those days, the main part of the "introduction" of the Christmas Pantomime was, and was termed, a "ballet of action." In such a performance there was literally not a word spoken, and therein W. II. Payne was to my mind quite supreme. I remember him first (in, I think, the winter of 1837-8), when I was a lad of about eleven, in a pantomime at Covent Garden, called Peeping Tom. He represented " Leofric, Earl of Mercia." From first to last the whole story was told in dumb-show, recourse being had now and then to the exhibition of placards containing a few words. Mr. C. J. Smith acted the inquisitive working-man, and a capital actor he was ; but the restless domineering Earl, ever busy chastising his retainers, bullying his wife—or being bullied by her, I forget which—and above all, drilling his troops, remains always in my mind as the central figure. In after years came the Great Bed of Ware, in which I remember Payne superlatively funny,—a lean figure in a nightcap, haunted by ghosts and worried by rats, in an enormous four-post bed ;—Fair Rosamond, who was serenaded by Payne (as Henry) on the trombone, and by C. J. Smith as his rival, on the bagpipes ;—Guy, Earl of Warwick, the Castle of Otranto, and many others which have faded from my memory. But in all of them Payne stood out as facile princeps the first of pantomimists. He used to wear a partial mask, so contrived that the play of his features could be seen. I think it was little more than a nose and forehead, and sometimes a separate chin. The essence of his acting was, that it was pure pantomime. Stricken dumb, he had to be always busy, always gesticulating, in order to carry on the action of the scene, and as was well said in the World the other day, there was a thoroughly intelligible meaning in every scrap of his dumb- show. In the so-called pantomimes of the present day, the actors have to stand still (or, at any rate, do stand still) to utter their stupid dialogue, or to sing their stupider songs. In the days of fogeydom, they had always, when on the stage, to be "as busy as a bee,"—as Garrick was said to have been in the Rehearsal. Dumb-show was not confined to Christmas buffooneries. Payne was, I think, the best Mime of my day, but he had worthy rivals even then, and earlier. Grimaldi is said to have been at least as good in serious pantomime as in his clowneries, and Wieland was an excellent dumb-show actor,—witness his performances in Die Hexen am Rhein, at the Adelphi ; in the Daughter of the Danube, at the Lyceum ; and above all, in a wonderful ballet, called the Little Hunchback, at one of the great theatres. Perrot, again, was great as Pierre Gringoire in a ballet founded on Victor Hugo's "Notre Dame." Neither were the ladies behindhand. Cerito in Abna, Carlotta Grisi in Esmeralda, showed themselves to be true pantomimists. As for Payne, I shall never forget his impersonation of a kind of demoniac cannibal, in a "serious ballet," manufactured from Victor Hugo's strange story of "Han d'Islande." Equally good was be in Rob Roy, as the Dougal creature. His cringing to the English officer, just before be- traying him, and his abject devotion to his chieftain, were ren- dered to the life, with hardly a word spoken.
Mr. Payne was, I see, upwards of seventy years old when he died a few days since. I cannot think that his peculiar talent has descended to any one, though his son is a very clever actor and dancer. But the curse of speech fell upon even the great pantomimist himself many years before his death. I have seen him within the last few years acting with his son. Some of the old fun and vivacity was there, but according to the modern usage, he had, ever and anon, to stop to talk or sing, and thus the continuity of the "ballet of action" was destroyed. The Mime had become a mere actor of modern bur- lesque. Miss Victoria Yokes, and her brother Mr. Frederick Yokes, have quite sufficient humour and liveliness to be most worthy successors of Mr. Payne, if they could only persuade the pantomime authors to seal their mouths as the mouths of panto- mime actors were sealed forty years ago. The art of pantomime might then perhaps be revived, but I believe it is now dormant in England, and that our last true Mime has departed, in the