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To the end of his highly-honoured life, the interest which he had excited suffered no diminution; and Your MAJESTY has deigned to express your royal satisfaction, " that a permanent record of that life was in contemplation.
For myself, so greatly favoured on this occasion, should Your Majesty indulgently consider what follows, as a faithful portrait of Mr. Kemble, and a not uninteresting view of the British Stage, I shall indeed rejoice in a design, to which I owe this public expression of the veneration inspired by Your MAJESTY's goodness, and of that sense of duty and attachment with which I must ever be,
I was occupied by an endeavour to ascertain the gepuine portraits of our imniortal Shakspeare, when I heard with infinite concern of the death of Mr. Kemble. I noticed that event in the following terms : and I quote them here, that the reader may be aware of the engagement I then contracted, and decide how far, by the present work, my pledge to the public is redeemed.
“While these sheets are passing through the press, I am shocked and grieved with the intelligence, that my excellent friend had departed this life, at an age that allowed a reasonable hope of many years of honourable retirement. At no very distant period, I hope to deliver to the public a work, the object of which is to record his progress in the art which he professed; and also to display his personal character, as it unfolded itself during an intimacy of near thirty years. Fortunately, the materials before me are at once abundant and authentic. It is my design to pay equal attention to the splendid talents of his sister, Mrs. Siddons : I cannot at all hope to do justice to the one, without embracing the other in my theatrical picture; and even then the work would be imperfect, did it not notice the concurring, though not equal, merits of those who acted with these great performers during their ample professional course. "*
Note at Pp. 17, 18. of Inquiry into the Authenticity, &c.
I have blended the Life of MR. KEMBLE with the History of the Stage, because they throw light upon each other; and I know not how they could well be separated.—What he advised was always referable to some system of management :-what he acted was always to be compared with the performances of others ; either aided by their skill, or injured by their want of it. I have therefore exhibited him as the central figure of my group ; as the “observed of all observers ;" as the great artist of his time, as accomplished in theory as practice :-as one, in a word, whose countenance, figure, and gestures enabled him to convey what a mind of great reflection, and studies of infinite accuracy, pointed out as the true objects of the tragedian.
In the almost childish season of life, I imbibed that fondness for the stage, which, shall I say, compelled me to attend to it with constancy and passion ;-it constituted my sole amusement and principal expense-I studied, as though I had been to make it a profession. As I grew in years, I became known to a few of its most eminent professors. I had always good taste enough to look beyond professional skill in the choice of a friend ; my prudence or my good fortune never associated me with one actor, whom I could not sincerely esteem as a man. I owe, therefore, to the profession, in public and in private, many of the most rational as well as most pleasing hours of my
existence. When, at length, I ventured upon the stage as an author, I found the greatest kindness and support from the performers of three different theatres ; and I hope that their merits have been properly estimated in the present work. That I shall satisfy all who may have survived to read me, I cannot promise to myself ; but I am quite sure of my intention to be just ; and they may easily appease any ungratified portion of self-love, by imagining their critic "walking, or talking, or perhaps upon a journey," or (an old critical enormity,) that “peradventure he slept, and could not be awaked.”
That Mr. Kemble chose to distiriguish me by particular confidence and long friendship, I have always felt to be an honour to my name. I hope not entirely to dis-, credit his choice. This detail about myself would be inexeusable, but that it shows the position of him who has taken upon bim to observe ; and that I have not ventured to record, what I had not every opportunity to know, to see, and to examine.
It was to fill up the chasm of a few years in stage history, that I extended my design up to the time when we lost Mr. Garrick ; and I thus offer to the public a dramatic record from the death of his great predecessor to that of Mr. Kemble in the year 1823.
There are fortunately many very masterly efforts of the pencil
, by which the person and expression of Mr. Garrick may be distinctly known. In private life there is the portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, resting upon the hands clasped together ; composing, what in truth he could do with surpassing airiness and point--a prologue. It should be re-engraved, for the worn-out mezzotinto, common enough among the dealers, is detestable. But the infinite variety' of this great actor may be seen, at its highest and lowest points of expression, in the tremendous whole length of his Richard the Third, by Dance, and the equally perfect portrait of his Abel Drugger by Zoffanij
. Mr. Reynolds has now completed his engravings of these invaluable works, and I congratulate the public upon their perfection.
Dr. Johnson, in his Life of Smith, among the English poets, with the tenderness that such a recent loss excited, did all perhaps for his fame that was just then required, and should not have waited the entreaty of Mrs. Garrick to do more.-
The Life of Garrick, by Johnson, would have been a treasure.
“Love is not love,
That stroke of death, “which eclipsed the gaiety of nations,” occured on the 20th of January, 1779.
But“ the public stock of harmless pleasure” was first impoverished by his retirement from the stage : he had some consolation in the opening career of Sheridan, who, like another Congreve, seemed destined to raise our comic style to its former character. Garrick attended the rehearsals of the School for Scandal, and openly announced the brilliant diction of the play ; with something of reasonable regret, that like his great model, the writer should have less nature than wit.
This first mention of Mr. Sheridan is a temptation to step a little back, for the object of noticing the succession of his dramatic efforts. His success was so prodigious, that one must have personally known Mr. Sheridan, to be able to conceive how he could so suddenly abandon a course of equal profit and fame, for another to which his nature seemed unsuited, and whose very elements were to be acquired during the exercise of his talents in the science. But as a politician, I have only to record, that his early efforts were discouraged by William Woodfall; a man who stood equally divided, like himself, between the senate and the play-house ; equally competent to report, at least, bis triumphs upon either scene. He told him, that he would never be an orator-“It was the greatest mistake,” said my old friend, “that I ever made.”
The Rivals was the first comedy by R. B. Sheridan, and acted at Covent Garden theatre on the 17th January, 1775. The play was rather roughly treated by the audience, and the author gratefully ascribed its ultimate triumph to the judgment and the friendship of Mr. Harris. If he was sincere in his declaration, no subsequent change of scene should have led him to rescind the printed acknowledgment. On the 21st of November, in the same year, he produced his Duenna. He seems then to have abated something of his speed of composition; for not being yet ready with his School for Scandal, he brought out at Drury Lane an alteration of Vanbrugh's Relapse, on the 24th February, 1777, and followed it on the 8th of May by that brilliant effiz