« ElőzőTovább »
In youth and prime of manhood we delighted in theatrical representations, and were sometimes admitted even behind the scenes-nay, not uninitiated were we in the dangerous mysteries of the Green-room. But in our old age, we seldom go to see a play. In the pit, our knees get cramped, and our back aches; those whiffs of wind are bad for our rheumatics, that, on the sudden flinging open of doors, bring the chill of the antarctic circle of the lobbies into the torrid zone of the boxes; indecorous would be the appearance of Christopher North in the slips-and he is not such a heathen as to take his place among the gods. We seldom, then, as we said, go now-a-days to the theatre; but we still sympathize with those who eagerly flock thither to see a star, or sit sedately there surrounded by their boys and girls, gazing with admiration on less illustrious lights, and delivering themselves up in the untamed transport of youthful emotion, to the delusions of joy or grief. We have never been able, for the souls of us, to see any sin in looking at a play, any more than in looking at a picture -provided there be nothing naughty in either; and had we a daughter, we should not be satisfied till she had seen Cordelia and Imogen.
The stage owed much, no doubt, to Garrick. He could not have been the first manager or actor-as has been often foolishly said-who studied costume; but he effected great improvements in that part of the representation, which is of ten thousand times more importance than scenery, and subordinate but to character. Genius can overcome any thing; and it can effectively personate Hamlet in a kilt, or Macbeth in breeches. Besides, we get not only reconciled by the power of habit to the most absurd and unnatural usages, but absolutely to like and admire them; so that they seem essential to our delight and delusion. Thus, we believe all characters on our stage, whatever their nation, were at one and for a long time expected to be in the full dress of English gentlemen or English heroes. Any deviation from that established custom would have been offensive, for it would have broken in upon one set of associations without bringing another into their place; and Caesar, without a full-flowing wig, might as well have been without a Brutus. To break through the fashion, that had given authority to such custom, required probably more boldness than we may be aware of; and to carry a better into We wish well, then, to the stage. Its effect infinitely greater skill. For a history is to us always bewitching knowledge of the costumes of antireading; and we are familiar with it quity implies much curious learning; all from Colley Cibber's delightful to ignorant spectators they could Memoirs, to the amusing Biographies give but little pleasure; and to the of John Galt. Nay, among our million most erudite it must have been manuscript miscellanies, innocently more painful to look on a bungled slumbering in the dovecots of our ca- toga, whose folds in no measure bebinets, are as many papers as, if col- trayed the fine Roman hand of a lected, would make some four vo- Place, but gave unequivocal symplumes, or so, we guess, of Reminis- toms of the sire of that tailor since cences of the theatrical world. Ere immortalized by his equestrian exlong, perhaps, they may see the day: cursion to Brentford. nor need they shun the sun, for unstained are they by scandal, as a virgin's letters to a female friend, written in the form of a journal, on her first visit to the Lakes.
Whatever improvements, then, Garrick may have effected in that way, they could be of little moment in comparison with what he did in another-in establishing art on na
* Francis the First; an Historical Drama. By Frances Anne Kemble. London; John Murray. 1832.
VOL. XXXI. NO. CXCIII.
ture. He produced a sudden revolution in acting-and was at once, by acclamation, crowned King. True that he wrote but indifferent verses, though sometimes they were elegant and graceful; and pity 'tis that 'tis true he murdered-or what is almost as bad-mutilated Shakspeare. But he admired-adored him too; and that he rightly felt and understood him, even in his fairest and most majestic creations, is put beyond all doubt by the effect-never surpassed, if equalled, by the power of any other actor-of his genius on all hearts and on all minds,
"At every flash of his far-speaking eye."
He raised the stage, in the estimation of an age illustrious for its great men, into an enlightened and intellectual profession, and invested it with a lustre, which, by his death, was obscured but not eclipsed; till, after some short fits of splendour, and longer periods now of glimmer and now of gloom," it was restored almost to its pristine glory by the rising genius of the Kembles.
To John Kemble nature had given such a face and such a figure as satisfied imagination's self in its visions of the majestic, and by his personal endowments he was formed to be if mind and soul were not wanting there a transcendent actor. Nor were they wanting; for though his genius may not have been of the highest, it was of a high order; he had a lofty enthusiasm and deep sensibility; his natural talents were great, and assiduously cultivated by a scholarly education; and no man ever studied more thoughtfully the principles of his art, or with more consummate skill embodied the theory in the practice of imitation, His judgment and taste were classical, but not cold; and there was a felt charm even in the freedom from all offensive faults in his Personations, that assured the minds of his audience into a tranquil trust in his excellence; the mood in which great beauties growing gradually before us, as in all his acting they were sure to do, finally produce their full effect, elevating us to higher and higher admiration, till it reaches its acme and its close in some affecting or prodigious catastrophe. His great
ness lay not in sudden bursts of passion, like Kean's, when he is at his most pathetic or most terrible; but in sustained and swelling emotion, unflagging till the fall of the curtain; and when it had fallen, leaving a sense of the sublime, like some strain of magnificent music. No other actor in our day ever was Hamlet. In reading that tragedy, nobody now pretends to understand the charac ter-in seeing it performed by John Kemble, every body felt it, gods and men; and breathless interest held all hearts, while he parleyed in reverential and superstitious awe with his father's ghost, or spoke daggers, but used none," to his mother, unhappier than she knew, and none knows how sinful. In Macbeth he was almost perfect-entirely so in Coriolanus; for if in the Highland Chief and King there wanted something of the wild grandeur of the haunted air of the moors and mountains, in the Roman General, the patrician pride in his order, and nature's own haughtiness in conscious greatness of soul, not unworthy the glory of the unconquered sons of the Capitol, were in his matchless Personation of a patriot expatriated into a traitor by a course of unendurable wrong, injury, and insult, so embodied to the eye as well as to the mind, that the whole audience were aroused as if they had themselves been Romans, and the theatre had been in the heart of Rome, while yet the eternal city gloried in her republic.
We trust that we have too much good sense to attempt painting a picture of Sarah Siddons. In her youth, 'tis said, she was beautiful, even love. ly, and won men's hearts as Rosalind But beauty is a fading flower. It faded from her face, ere one wrinkle had touched that fixed paleness which sel dom was tinged with any colour, even in the whirlwind of passion. Light went and came across those finest fea tures at the coming and going of each feeling or thought; but faint was the change of hue ever visible on that glorious marble. It was the magni ficent countenance of an animated statue-in the stillness of its idealized beauty instinct with all the emotions of our mortal life. Idealized beauty! Did we not say that beauty had faded from her face? Yes
1832.7 but it the expressio
Miss Fanny Kemble's Tragedy.
rspread with a kindred
Which we withhold the
As for his wife, there were few more delightful actresses in her
because it seemed more day than Mrs Stephen Kemble. In
awe that overpowermingled with delight, Such an image surely had never
-say rather immor
speaking, she had a clear silver voice," most musical, most melancholy;" (though she was not a little e trode,nor ever again will tread, almost bit a piece out of the shoulof a vixen, and in pure spite, once enchanted floor. In all stateliest der of Henry Johnston, in Young shews of waking woe she dwindled Norval, while bending over 66 my the stateliest into insignificance; her beautiful, my brave," in the maternal majesty made others mean; in her character of Lady Randolph ;) and sunlike light all stars "paled their she sung with the sweetest pathos. ineffectual fires." But none knew From many fair eyes, now shut, have the troubled grandeur of guilt, till we seen her Ophelia draw tears in they saw her in Lady Macbeth, walk- the mad scene; and she was a deliing in her sleep, and, as she wrung cious Juliet, and an altogether incomher hands, striving in pain to wash parable Yarico. Not so lovely as the from them the engrained murder. fair O'Neill, nor so romantic; for she "Not all the perfumes of Arabia had borne children; but her eyes could sweeten this little hand!" The had far more of that unconsciously whisper came as from the hollow alluring expression of innocence and grave, and more hideously haunted voluptuousness which must have than ever was the hollow grave, shone through the long fringes of the seemed then to be the cell of her large lamping orbs of the fond Itaheart! Shakspeare's self had learned lian girl, who at fourteen was a bride, something then from a sight of Sid- and but for that fatal sleeping dons. draught, ere fifteen would have been a mother. In Catherine, again, we have more than once been delighted to see her play the Devil. To her it was not every man, we can assure you, that was able to be a Petruchio. In all the parts she played, she was impassioned; and all good judges who remember her, will agree with us in thinking, that she was an actress not only of talent, but of genius.
Those were great creatures, and
But there are Kembles alive among
Mrs Siddons left a son, to whom nature had denied" outward grace,' and given no great gift of expression either in form, face, or voice. But he was a man of feeling and talent, and understood well the principles of his art, though unable in his own person to exemplify them with any distinguished success. Yet in some characters, in spite of natural disadvantages, he was, by the force of true feeling, very effective,-as in the Stranger. In private life no man could be more esteemed; and many among us in Edinburgh here cherish his memory, both for the sake of his own virtues, and for the virtues, the accomplishments, and genius of his widow, Mrs Henry Siddons.
was a wish, that, if granted, had
Well do we remember her when
Miss Murray, and for a while more admired for her mild and modest beauty, than for any conspicuous power or genius as an actress, She
seldom or never had then appeared in any very prominent part, and with true taste and fine feeling, had always acted up to the part assigned her, and never beyond it; so that she always inspired pleasure, although not admiration. Applause she always received; but it seemed given to her young and lovely self, rather than to her acting; and at that time was, on that account, probably the more grateful-and not the less encouraging as she must have felt that she had with her the hearts of her audi
death, with a few fond forgiving last words to declare him innocent. As Kean in Othello fiercely howled
She's like a liar gone to burning hell!" who felt not assured, while the body lay still and white on the couch, in night-clothes like a shroud, that her spirit had flown to heaven!
Charles Kemble is not so fine a man as John-and we cannot choose but call him rather clumsy, espe cially about the ankles; but then he has a noble natural air, and has →studied successfully the art or the Miss Murray, though easy in natu- science of manner, demeanour, carral elegance, seemed, we remember, riage, so as to make the most of his to be often affected with diffidence, figure, which is cast in almost Hereuitself not without a charm, and the lean mould. His face, though far inmore so on account of the rarity of ferior in heroic expression to John's, that feeling which, on the London is yet noble and he has a voice stage, shone in her as a native and mellow and manly, and of much peculiar virtue. Yet, for some time compass, though incapable of those before her marriage, she had, as an in- pathetic and profound tones which, teresting actress, won upon the ad- in spite of his asthma, used to issue miration of the audience who had al- forth from that broad chest of his, ways with respect regarded the spot- when "Black Jack was in power toless woman; and a very few years night," in volume that surprised elapsed till Mrs Henry Siddons was those who had heard him only on universally acknowledged as one of more common occasions, or when he the brightest ornaments of the stage. was indisposed to make, or incapaThe charm of her performance, whe--ble of making, his highest efforts. ther in comedy or tragedy, was still its simplicity; but her gladness had now more brilliancy, and her grief more pathos; and she became more captivating in her smiles, more overpowering in her tears. She exhibited, too, great versatility of talent; and ere long became the fixed star of the Edinburgh stage. Above all the actresses of her time, her demeanour was distinguished by that charm which sometimes has imparted power even to mediocrity, but which, when joined, as it was in her case, with the finest faculties, adds a perpetual power to genius, and ensures its resistless triumphs-Mrs Henry Siddons was in all things the perfect lady. But in Ophelia and Desdemona, even that look, though there, is lost sight of, or it is merged in misery. We think not of the gracefulness of the stalk when it is crushed-flower and all; but feel only that there is an endextinction of something we had loved; and so was it with her, as we looked and listened to her, singing her strange snatches of songs, or smothered by the murderous Moor, and restored for a moment from seeming
For many years Charles, though always a favourite with a London audience, could justly be said to be but a second-rate actor, even in his best characters; and in his worst, he was hardly a third-rate one. But the acting of all the Kembles is of slow growth in its rise towards excellence or perfection. It was sothough less so with her than her brothereven with the Siddons. About twenty years ago, when Charles Kemble could not have been much under forty, his acting brightened up into a brillianey, and expanded into la breadth of manner, that shewed he was, even at that somewhat advanced period of life, though its prime, about to enter on a new era. He did so; and ere long, in some characters, had no equal among his contemporaries, and wea if any, superiors among his predesuspect few, very high tragedy, he is not greatcessors. In parts of very deep Bor and in these a man must be aut CoKean, a Young, or no better than asar aut nullus-a John Kemble, a but we wish not to be severe so let the alternative be anonymous. But
in all parts between, where the interest is still tragic, he is as good as can be, performing with energy and spirit. Indeed spirit is the very word, and it has infinite varieties and a wide range of significance. In comedy we were going to say genteel-but we dislike the word-in such comedy as Shakspeare's, where the parts played are by nature's gentleman, such as Faulconbridge, Hotspur, (we use the word comedy,) Orlando, Mercutio, Benedict, Petruchio, and the like, a better actor than Charles Kemble never trode the stage.
girl would never have been an actress. People may think so-perhaps her very parents perhaps her very self; but they must pardon us for saying that we know better; for a bird sung it to us in a dream, that she was to continue the fame of her family, so long illustrious in the annals of the theatre, and to equal, if not surpass that of them all, except the Unapproachable-the Sole Tragic Queen.
Emerging suddenly, not from the gloom but the shade, this gifted young creature came forth at a time at once trying and propitious; and gratulating acclaim arose when first "her fulgent head star-bright appeared." She showed, on her first night, that she was worthy of her lineage; and the fine features of her intellectual countenance silently spoke her relationship to the Siddons. She established herself at once, by the unanimous consent of the best judges, as well as bythe award of the public, in the highest order. That was enough; triumph was won by power; and she has in her future career but to evolve under noblest studies all the finished forms
But we remember us of the image of a delightful, dark-eyed, dark-haired girl, whose motion was itself music ere her voice was heard, and the glance of her gleaming eyes, ere yet her lips were severed, itself speech. In all melodramatic representations -in that exquisite species of historical narrative, Pantomime, where face, frame, and limbs have all to be eloquent, and to tell tales of passion beyond the power of mere airy words -in the dance that is seen to be the language of the exhilarated heart, when it seeks to communicate, to cherish, or to expend its joy in move-of her genius. Jan ments of the animal frame not merely quickened by the spirit, but seemingly themselves spiritualized, and that, too, into attitudes and outlines of nature's own gracefulness, that needs no teacher but the impulses from which it springs, and the "innocent brightness of the new-born day" of bliss in which it prolongs its gliding, and floating, and flying being, in all this, O gentle and middleaged reader, (pardon our perhaps too poetic style, though ornate yet unambitious,) who was once scomparable in her sparkling girlhood, to that dangerous yet unwicked witch, the charm-and-spell-bearing enchantress, Decamp?o betray bin Morgiana has long been changed, by the touch of Hymen's magical rod into a smatron and Mrs Charles Kemble has swallowed up Miss Decamp. Of such parentage, it would have been strange if the soul of Miss Fanny Kemble had not turned instinctively towards the stage. We have heard it said that but for the misfortunes of Covent Garden Theatre, (which her genius has gloriously retrieved,) this extraordinary
We could wish to say much even now of that genius, and to speak of Miss Kemble, young as she is, as already a great actress. But the introduction or preface to our article has run on to an alarming length; and we must break off from that theme, and turn to one even more delightful, her genius as a poet-and that, too, in the highest province of the art, the tragic drama.
We confess, that when first we heard of her having adventured upon that walk, our heart, interested in all her successes, had many misgivings; but we took courage on learning, months before the appearance of her play, that it had won the admiration of Joanna Baillie. It has been published, and it has been per formed; and already the public voice has declared, that it is not only for one so young-but in itself- great achievement.
Let us, then, give an analysis of the drama, accompanied with copious extracts-more copious proba bly than may be found in any other periodical-for so only can genius be fairly judged,-and conclude our