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LETTER THE SEVENTH.
OF PUBLIC AJUSEMENTS, A.VD ESPECIALLY OF DRAMATIC AND
Your last letter, my child, reads like a playbill
. Surely, it should be written in alternate lines of black and red, be headed by the royal arms, and conclude with a neat epigraph of Vivant Regina et Princeps, with a touching allusion to
No money returned." You seem to have been gadding about from playhouse to playhouse for the last fortnight. That it is Christmas-time might be alleged as one excuse for your unusual dissipation—if any excuse were needed ; but I am not about to scold Mrs. de Fytchett for taking you to the dress-circle at the Haymarket—to an avant scène at the Olympic-to a private box at the Princess's, and to the stalls at the Adelphi. Amelia-Charlotte knows well my
sentiments are in favour of the British Drama-and of the British Opera, wben there happens to be one in existence : (you must go again to Covent Garden and hear Miss Louisa Pyne) —when those entertainments are properly conducted. I don't think ladies ought to stay out the ballet, as it is at present given at the Italian Opera—although that may be prejudice
on my part. In my time the female dancersMademoiselle Noblet, and others—used to wear skirts of something like decent length ; and I decidedly disapprove of theatrical performances whose attractions mainly consist in bold-faced young ladies, very thickly painted, assuming the garments of the opposite ses. But as a rule and statute for your guidance, I say, “Go to the Play,” when any pieces worth seeing are being performed. I am sure more harm has been done by people stopping away from playhouses than by their attending those places of amusement.
There is in England a vast body of conscientious persons who strongly object to any theatrical performances whatever. The majority of such persons are in easy, and many in afiluent, circumstances. As to the working classes, they are, almost to a man, woman, and child, devoted admirers of the Drama. You might test this, I think, by opening Drury Lane and Covent Garden gratis one night :-why wasn't it done when the Princess Royal was married ?—and considering the rush that would take place. But as the commercial success of theatres must ever mainly depend upon the persons who can afford to pay liberally for admission to the entertainments presented—remember that the occupant of a private box disburses as much as do thirty or forty sitters in the gallery-it is worth while briefly to inquire why so many otherwise excellent and just persons rigidly and obstinately set their faces against the footlights and the green-baize curtain.
England, to be sure, is not the only country where the Drama is held in disfavour by a party. Until very lately, in France, the priests used to refuse Christian burial to actors and actresses, exactly as they denied the rites of sepulture to the great Molière. There was a reason for this rigour. The odium theologicum never dies. Priests never forget, and the dramatic descendants of Molière had never been forgiven for a certain piece he wrote against the black-gowns, called Tartuffe. But in England the priests, with their Mysteries, and Moralities, and Miracle Plays, were the first theatrical managers. In the plays of Shakspeare the dignified clergy of the Anglican persuasion are always treated with the profoundest respect; and even Romish cardinals and friars are held in some decent estimation. The Vicar of Stratfordupon-Avon in Charles's time-garrulous Mr. Ward-eagerly collected particulars-scant are they, but precious—of Shakspeare's life. No ecclesiastical veto stopped the erection of the monument to the Bard in Stratford Church and Westminster Abbey. A bishop selected the magnificent extract from Prospero's speech in the “ Tempest " which graces the pedestal of Roubiliac's statue. Bishops and learned divines have annotated and edited our Shakspeare's works. In that same Abbey of Westminster Garrick was buried, nobles holding up the pall, the Dean and Chapter receiving the corpse as the procession wound up the aisle. Doctor Busby and Doctor Parr, both learned and pious clergymen, loved and reverenced Shakspeare. John Kemble had fast friends on the right reverend bench. Charles Young was almost domesticated in the family of the Bishop of Bath and Wells. And even now there are cathedral dignitaries and beneficed clergymen in the provinces who deem it not derogatory to their high position to attend poky little country theatres, and sit, grand in double-vested broadcloth and bowless white neckcloths, in the high places of the auditorium. Don't you remember how, in “Pendennis," Doctor Portman and Mr. Smirke, the curate, escort Mrs. P. and little Laura to witness the histrionic performances of Miss Fotheringay? Thus, while lawn sleeves, shovel hats, and silk
aprons, sistently patronised the Drama, the virulent opposition thereto has generally emanated from Geneva bands, and steeplecrowned hats, and closely-cropped heads. There : the secret is out. It is the old, old story of Cavalier and RoundheadHigh and Low Church. Cavalier wants the Book of Sports read from the pulpit; would set up a Maypole in every parish; is in favour of church ales, and Easter and Whitsun
tide merrymakings; would have no objection to a bull or a bear or two for the purpose of baiting; and would welcome the players, strolling or permanent, wherever he meets them. Roundhead is for having these same play-acting gentry set in the stocks as rogues and vagabonds, with a whipping at parting for luck.
“ Down with the Maypoles !” cries Roundhead, opposing fat pig and goose, maligning custard through the nose, and disparaging plum-pudding and mince-pies meanwhile.
How are we to reconcile persons who take such opposite views of things—looking, the one party on the golden, the other on the silver side of the shield ? The worst of the matter is, that Cavalierism being the easier, merrier, jollier, and infinitely more comfortable creed, the idle and dissolute range themselves by preference on that side, and we who love the drama as an honest, cheerful, and ennobling recreation, are fain to put up with the company of questionable and sometimes disreputable allies. Once, it is true, the Stage had a High Church adversary, and a most formidable one; learned and pious and witty; no other indeed, than Jeremy Collier, the famous non-juring divine. He attacked the Drama of his time with terrible force and justice ; for it was the Drama of Congreve, and Wycherly, and Farquhar: very witty and sparkling, no doubt, but wickedly and systematically immoral. Scarcely a comedy of those witty and sparkling gentlemen has kept the stage in our day; but the Puritans seem to have received as heirlooms all Collier's strictures and denunciations, and tell us with a furious sternness that a playhouse is a sink of Iniquity and an abode of Vice. Perhaps it may be so; we, the audience, don't go behind the scenes. The players must keep the sink very tightly sealed, and the abode tolerably select, for we do not read of their iniquity in the newspapers, and they do not parade their Vice in Rotten Row or the Ring. I don't hear anything about actors being brought up before the magistrates for beating their wives or deserting their children, for forging bills of exchange or stealing gammons of bacon, for frequenting gaming-houses or creating disturbances in the public streets. I am given to understand that there never was but one actor hanged, and he was an Irishman, and is more than suspected to have been a mere mountebank of a posture-master who had turned player when his joints were too stiff to tumble.
Where, then, are the vice and iniquity the good Puritans tell us abont? Not, I hope, in the musicians in the orchestra. They seem harmless creatures enough, with no more vicious propensities than might consist in their taking large quantities of snuff between the bars of the overture. Not surely in the act drop. That is usually a very beautiful allegorical tableau, charmingly painted by one of the three famous Williams, of the scenic art-Telbin, or Beverley, or Calcott. Stanfield and Robert were the great masters en décor in my time. Not among the audience. They sit patiently enough in pit, boxes, and gallery, and there cannot be much vice or iniquity in fanning one's self or sucking an orange, or in occasionally imitating the sound of a railway whistle, or in a baby meekly bleating now and then. A shame to bring babies to the theatre, nevertheless; but there are positively mothers who would drag their children in arms to the battle of Waterloo or the siege of Ticonderoga, if those great historical episodes were to occur again to-morrow. See, there is his Excellency the Russian Ambassador in a. private box, with a head white, smooth, bare, polished as a billiard ball
, a large hungry jaw, and little bloodshot eyes. He wears his red ribbon, and a constellation of twinkling tinsel stars on the breast of his coat. There, in the stalls,