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nothing of the discipline of art in his acting ; it was wild unfutored infant nature : his whole soul was in the business ; and having written the character he was representing, he was master of all its shades, and gave ease, life and majesty to the image of his little brain. The passions seemed to move at his command, and were all expressed with a grace, an artlessness, and a truth, that were perfectly captivating.”
The play of Saluzzo, in which young Dallas thus eminently distinguished himself, cannot be said to be a regular or correct performance, such as may hereafter be expected from the riper years of the author ; but as the day-star a brilliant promise, we know of nothing to which we can compare it in our own language ; for in truth we do not recollect any composition of this kind emanating from a British boy at so early an age.
The “ Battle of Waterloo,” and “ Ode to Wellington," were also written during his twelfth year; and it is by these pieces that his infant fame as an author has been chiefly established. Considered merely with respect to their mechanical structure, they are very astonishing productions for a youth; the expressions are every where clear, and well defined; the diction clear and harmonious; and the metre as uniformly complete as it is skilfully diversified. But they have merits of a yet higher order to justify the applause which they have elicited. They display a wide range of thought ; a luxuriant abundance of imagery; and a rich tone of virtuous, yet impassioned feeling.
The “ Ode to Wellington,” in particular, will for ever stand a lasting monument of the genius of its author. - It is bold, grand, harmonious ; its magnitude is in unison with the grandness of its theme. Felicities of expression every where occur, which nothing but the truest poetic fervour could have inspired ; and not unfrequently bursts of moral sentiment, which would do honour to the maturest age. If the
poems bave a defect, it is that of exuberance, the common fault of youth : but Quintilian teils us, he “ always augured best of those pupils whose compositions had something to spare.”
The last of young Dallas's published productions is a specimen of another tragedy, called Richard Cour de Lion, written
and a half. It was composed, we have heard, after having seen, for the first time in his life, a tragedy acted ; the Apostate of Shiel; and when we reflect on the inferior character of the piece which first introduced him to a knowledge of the acted drama, and on the vast applause which was nevertheless showered upon it by the public, (bewitched doubtless by that tragic enchantress, who personated the heroine of the piece, and whose recent retirement from public life into the circle of domestic joys, must have struck dismay into the heart of more than one Bævius,) we may easily imagine how much a mind strongly disposed to dramatic composition, and so teeming with all the capabilities of excelling in it, as that of young Dallas, must have been roused to a consciousness of its own strength, infant as it was, and how much it may have been tempted to essay something more truly worthy of public distinction.
The subject which young Dallas has selected for this second dramatic effort is very happily chosen ; it would seem as if, before learning had made him familiar with Aristotle, his mind had intuitively reached his dramatic rules.
What hero more popular, yet more unfortunate, than Richard ? What reverse of fortune more truly the effect of the individual's own indiscretion, or better calculated to awaken those passions in tragedy, pity and admiration? The subject at the same time is one of peculiar difficulty, since it belongs only to the most experienced, as well as the most cultivated, taste and talent, to do justice to the lofty valour and heroic cast of mind which distinguished the heroes of the crusading age. To attempt a tragedy on such materials was a great daring: but to succeed even to the extent this youth has done, in the published specimen before us, may be regarded as a pledge of future excellence, which it requires no spirit of prophecy to foretel, he will (if happily spared) yet amply redeem.
Since this volume of Poems has been written, young Dallas, we understand, has entered Harrow School. He had previously, we have been informed, been well grounded in the preliminary branches of education, by the Rev. Edward Lloyd, of Peterley House, Great Missenden, Bucks, whose preparatory school has long possessed a high reputation, as well in that county, as with the heads of our principal colleges.
Gassendi, who flourished in the middle of the seventeenth century, exhibits one of the most striking instances of the precocity of the human intellect. 66 At the age of four years, says Bernier," he used to declaim his little sermons; at the age
he used to steal away from his parents, and spend a great part of the night in observing the stars. This made his friends say, that he was born an astronomer. At this
age, he had a dispute with the boys of the village, whether the moon or the clouds moved : to convince them that the moon did not move, he took them behind a tree, and made then take notice that the moon kept its situation between the same leaves, whilst the clouds passed on. This early disposition to observation induced his parents to cultivate his talents; and the clergyman of his village gave him the first elements of learning. His ardour for study became then extreme ; the day was not long enough for him ; and he often read a good part of the night by the light of the lamp that was burning in the church of his village, his family being too poor to allow him candles for his nocturnal studies. He often took only four hours sleep in the night. At the age of ten, he harangued his bishop in Latin (who passed through Gassendi's village, on his visitation) with such ease and spirit, that the prelate exclaimed, “ That lad will one day or other be the wonder of his age !"
The modest and unassuming conduct of Gassendi gave an additional charm to his talents." He complained,” says St. Evremond,“ that Nature had given such a degree of extent to our curiosity, and such very narrow limits to our knowledge. This, he assured me, he did not say to mortify the presumption of any person ; or from an affected humility, which is a kind of hypocrisy. He did not pretend to deny but that he knew what might be thought on many subjects, but he dared not venture to affirm that he completely understood any one.
He was in general silent, never ostentatiously obtruding upon others either the acuteness of his understanding, or the eloquence of his conversation ; he was never in a hurry to give his opinion, before he knew that of the persons who were conversing with him. When men of learning introduced themselves to him, he was contented with behaving to them with great civility, and was not anxious to surprize their admiration. The entire tendency of his studies was to make himself wiser and better; and to have this intention more constantly before his eyes, he had inscribed all his books with these words, Sapere aude.”
W. H. W. BETTY.
The instances of early excellence on the stage are less pumerous than in almost any other department ; for although in an early period of its history an attempt was made at novelty, by the introduction of the children of the Chapel Royal on the stage, in the hope, as Shakespeare says, of making the boys carry it away;" yet we have but one instance of a boy's extraordinary talents among them. In later years,
Garrick conceived the idea of instituting a regular school for actors and actresses ; and several promising children, ,and chiefly those of performers, were accordingly selected, and certain appropriate plays prepared for the purpose of introducing them.
Yet two alone of all these candidates attained any reputation, and but one of the whole group (Miss Pope) exhibited any talents at a riper age.
William Henry West Betty, known by the name of the Young Roscius, is certainly the most striking instance of precocious excellence in the scenic art. He was in his eleventh year when he first saw a play, Pizarro; the part of Elvira performed by Mrs. Siddons. With this character he was captivated : he repeated her speeches, imitated her manner, copied her accents, and studied her attitudes. From this moment the drama became his chief study, the master passion of his soul, and he frankly informed his father, " that he should die if he were not permitted to become a player.” The darling passion of a darling son was gratified; young Betty was introduced to Mr. Atkins, the manager of the theatre at Belfast; and on the 1st of August, 1803, when yet a child of eleven years and eleven months old, he appeared for the first time in the character of Osman, in the tragedy of Zara. He next sustained the parts of Rolla, Young Norval, and Romeo. From Belfast, young Betty went to Cork, where he received one-fourth of the receipts of the house, and a clear benefit. He next visited Glasgow, in 1804, where he played with great success for fourteen nights, and then visited Edinburgh. Here he received a highly flattering letter from the late ingenious Lord Meadowbank, on his talents; and in his personation of Young Norval, drew from the venerable author of the tragedy a declaration, that he 66 the genuine offspring and son of Douglas."
From Edinburgh, the “ Young Roscius” proceeded to the country which had given him birth; and after appearing at Worcester, Sheffield, Liverpool, Chester, Birmingham, &c. he was engaged at Covent Garden Theatre for twelve nights, at fifty guineas a night, and a clear benefit ; while he agreed to perform at Drury Lane during the intervening nights, an arrangement unprecedented in the history of the stage. Here he continued to perform for some time in his favourite characters, which he gradually extended, until they amounted to no less than fourteen. It would be impossible to describe the enthusiasm which he excited; it seemed an epidemic mania ; at the doors of the theatre where he was to perform for the evening, the people crowded as early as one o'clock; and when the hour of admittance came, the rush was so dreadful, that numbers were nightly injured by the pressure. One hundred pounds per night were now given to young Betty; and he soon quitted the stage with a large fortune, accumulated at a period in life when other boys are only on the point of entering a public school.
“A little body with a mighty heart.” Since the period when the good fortune of Master Betty called forth a host of young Roscii and Rosciæ, and the Greenroom was in danger of being converted into a nursery, the tide of public feeling has run violently against the exhibition of children on the boards of our great theatres. If, however, any circumstance was likely to make the public not only tolerate, but approve of the theatrical performances of children, it must be in the production of a piece suited to their tender years, and when talents are displayed, such as those of Miss Clara Fisher.
This child was born on the 14th of July, 1811, and from her earliest infancy exhibited an uncommon share of intellect. When an infant in arms, she took so much delight in music, that when certain tunes were played, the pleasure she felt was most striking: while, on the other hand, when any air to which she had taken a dislike was attempted to be introduced, she would cry and oppose the performance of it by every means in her power; an instance of acuteness of ear and taste rarely to be met with in an infant.
The first impulse for the stage that little Clara felt, was on seeing Miss O'Neill perform the character of Jane Shore. After her return from the theatre she began to show what impression Miss O'Neill's performance had made upon her mind, by imitating all she had seen that great mistress of the passions so recently exhibit; but infant-like, she blended the madness of Alicia, with the tenderness and distress of Jane Shore. These actions, in a child under four years of age, naturally excited pleasure and surprise in the family circle, and the applause bestowed by some private friends, seemed to fix in her infant mind a love for the stage. Some time after, she saw a comic dance at the Olympic Theatre, which gave her much pleasure; and the next evening her eldest sister accidentally playing the tune on the piano forte, she, to the surprise of all, went through the dance correctly in the steps, and with all the action and grimace she had witnessed in the clown the night before.
The first appearance of Miss Fisher on the stage, was at Drury Lane Theatre, on the 10th of December, 1817, in Garrick's little comedy of Lilliput, to which many songs had been added, and the whole remodelled by Mr. D. Corri, whose pupils sustained the principal characters in the piece. The part of Lord Flimnap was assigned to Miss Clara Fisher, who astonished the audience by her extraordinary and various talents.