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I attended, so slovenly and irregular, that the ragged master of a theatrical barn might have blushed for the want of discipline in the pompous director of his Majesty's Servants, at the vast and astonishing new-erected Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.i
It is well known to those conversant with the business of the stage, that no perfect judgment can be formed of the length of a play, apparent to the spectator, nor of the general effect intended. to be produced, until the private repetitions among the actors have reduced the business into something like lucidus ordo:-then comes the time for the judicious author to take up his pruning-knife, or handle his hatchet. Then he goes lustily to work, my masters! upon his curtailments, or additions; his transpositions, his loppings, his parings, trimmings, dockings, &c. &c. &c. As in the writing, so in the rehearsal ;
"Ordinis hæc virtus erit et venus, aut ego fallor;
Ut jam nunc dicat, jam nunc debentia dici
Pleraque differat, et præsens in tempus omittat: Ano.i
But, woe is me! while I was patiently waiting the expected crisis, a circumstance occurred which compelled me to watch a crisis of a less agreeable nature. A fever attacked me as I sat beneath the damp dome of Drury, and drove me, malgré moi, to bed; where I lay during a week, till three hours before the play was exhibited. In addition to the unavoidable injury arising from the author's abs
sence, Mr. KEMBLE, the acting manager, and principal performer in the piece, was, and had been for a few days previous to my own illness, confined to his chamber by indisposition. I lay little stress, indeed, upon his temporary incapacity to perform his managerical duty; his mode of discharging it hitherto was productive of little benefit to me: still it was some drawback; for were a mere log thrown amidst a Thespian community, and nominated its dull and ponderous ruler, still the block, while in its place, would carry some sway with it: but his non-attendance as an actor, so much engaged in the play, was particularly detrimental.
Nay, even the composer of the music-and here let me breathe a sigh to the memory of departed worth and genius, as I write the name of STORACE→→→ even he could not preside in his department. He was preparing an early flight to that abode of harmony, where choirs of angels swell the note of welcome to an honest and congenial spirit.
Here then was a direct stop to the business. No such thing. The troops proceeded without leaders: In the dark, Messieurs !" Sans eyes, sans every thing." The prompter, it is true, a kind of noncommissioned officer, headed the corps, and a curi ous march was made of it!
But, lo! two days, or three, (I forget which) previous to the public representation, up rose King Kemble! like Somnus from his ebon bed, to distri bute his dozing directions among his subjects.
Vix oculos tollens;
"Tarda gravitate jacentes
Şummaque percutiens nutanti pectora mento,
Excussit, tandem, sibi se; eubitoque levatus," &c.
He came, saw, and pronounced the piece to be ripe for exhibition. It was ordered to be performed immediately. News was brought to me in my sick. ness of the mighty fiat; and although I was told officially that due care had been taken to render it worthy of public attention, I submitted with doubt and trembling to the decree. My doubts, too, of this boasted care were not a little increased, by a note which I received from the prompter, written by the manager's order, three hours only before the first representation of the play; wherein, at this late period, my consent was abruptly requested to a transposition of two of the most material scenes in the second act: and the reason given for this curious proposal was, that the present stage of Drury→→→→ where the architect and machinist, with the judg ment and ingenuity of a politician and a wit to assist them, had combined to outdo all former theatrical outdoings--was so bunglingly constructed, that there was not time for the carpenters to place the lumbering frame work, on which an abbey was painted, behind the representation of a library, without leaving a chasm of ten minutes in the action of the play, and that in the middle of an act. Such was the fabrica
tion of that new stage, whose "extent and powers'
have been so vauntingly advertised, under the classic
management of Mr. Kemble, in the edifying exhibition of pantomimes, processions, pageants, triumphal cars, milk white horses, and elephants!
As I did not chuse to alter the construction of my play without deliberation, merely to screen the ill construction of the house, I would not listen to the modest and well-timed demand of turning the progress of my fable topsy turvy." rvi. lo.
Very ill and very weak from the effects of the fever, which had not yet left me, I made an effort and went to the theatre to witness the performance. I found Mr. Kemble in his dressing-room a short time before the curtain was drawn up, taking opium pills; and nobody who is acquainted with that gentleman will doubt me when I assert, that they are a medicine which he has long been in the habit of swallowing. He appeared to me very unwell; and seemed, indeed, to have imbibed
Ꭵ . A
"Poppy and mandragora,
And all the drowsy syrups of the world."
The play began; and all went smoothly, till a trifling disapprobation was shewn to the character personated by Mr. Dodd, the scene in which he was engaged being much too long;a proof of the ne glect of those whose business it was to have informed me (in my unavoidable absence from the theatre), that it appeared in the last rehearsals to want curtailment. I considered this, however, to be of no great moment; for Mr. Kemble was to appear immediately in a subsequent scene, and much was ex
pected from his execution of a part written expressly for his powers.
And here let me describe the requisites for the character which I have attempted to draw, that the world may judge whether I have taken a wrong measure of the personage whom I proposed to fit: premising that I have worked for him before with success, and therefore it may be presumed that I am somewhat acquainted with the dimensions of his qualifications.I required, then, a man
"Of a tall stature, and of sable hue,
Much like the son of Kish, that lofty Jew.all tygg
A man of whom it might be said,
"There's something in his soul
O'er which his melancholy sits and broods."
Look at the actor ;-and will any body do him the injustice to declare that he is deficient in these qualifications. It would puzzle any author, in any time or country, from schylus, down even to the translator of Lodoiska-and really, gentlemen, I can go no lower to find a figure and face better suited to the purpose. I have endeavoured, more over, to pourtray Sir Edward Mortimer as a man stately in his deportment, reserved in his temper, mysterious, cold, and impenetrable in his manner; and the candid observers, I trust, will allow that Mr. Kemble is thoroughly adequate to such a personation.
To complete my requisitions, I demanded a per