Page images



you may see an English duke and a countess or two, and wits and scholars and fine gentlemen if it be the first night of a new piece by a favourite author.

I look in vain for vice and iniquity before the curtain. And when that drapery is raised, do I behold them on the stage? Certainly vicious and iniquitous persons abound in the terrible tragedies of Shakspeare, and there are mean hounds and gossiping scandal-mongers in the comedies, and in the farces there are knaves and fools enough; but isn't vice punished, and isn't virtue rewarded, at the end of the fifth act? Isn't the knave brought to shame, and the fool to scorn? Don't these honest people on the stage seem to strive to paint wickedness in its darkest, and worth in its brightest colours? Don't we listen to a good deal of sermonising as to our duties, and of satire as to our faults-sermons enriched by eloquence and edged by poignant wit? Did the players take a lesson from Mr. Spurgeon, or Mr. Spurgeon from the players, think you? Can an exhibition be vicious or iniquitous in which the expression of a generous, a benevolent, a merciful feeling is. sure to call forth a burst of applause from hundreds of horny hands in the gallery yonder? Does it advance the cause of vice and iniquity to be told that we must keep our marriage vows, and abide by our homes and love our children; that extravagance is sure to end in ruin, and folly and vanity in exposure and ridicule? Do we become children of vice or babes of iniquity when we cry our eyes out at a pathetic dénouement, or shake our sides with laughter at a droll farce? Would irreverence, scurrility, or sedition be permitted on the stage I say by the audience-even if the objectionable matter had passed the licenser?—a sufficiently useless, conceited, dunder-headed functionary, my dear. Years ago it was Mr. George Colman the younger who was the licenser of plays; a wrinkled old gentleman with a fur collar, who lived

at Brompton, and, as people said, cut all the naughty words out of the plays submitted to him to garnish his own private conversation withal. At present there are from fifteen hundred to three thousand licensers in a large theatre when a new piece is performed; and very rigid, critical censors they are too. They would very soon scout vice and iniquity if they found them in dialogue or action. Vice and iniquity! vice and iniquity! I have used the words till they are hackneyed. Not skimming over these shallows shall you find them. Deeper and deeper must the plummet go; full fathom five through lace and embroidery; glancing by the gold and gems that heave on white bosoms, piercing through tinselled stars and radiant uniforms as through fustian vests and dimity bodices. Is it not written that the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked? Be not too ready, then, Pharisee, to assume that beneath the mummer's spangled jerkin vice and iniquity are rampant. A deeper sin may be lurking beneath yon bombazine. cassock, beneath the statesman's robes, beneath the purple of the great king.

For all which reasons, Miss, I would have you partake, in moderation-as of all other amusements-of the recreation of the playhouse. I would have you patronise operatic entertainments more sparingly. I love music, admire the lyric stage. "Music hath charms" (you know the rest), and is unquestionably softening and humanising. Witness the working men of Bradford, roaring forth their oratorio choruses in magnificent time and tune, and the Penryn choristers, to whom Her Majesty presented a silver cup, as a token of her admiration, only lately. But after witnessing once or twice the performance of a good opera, you may hear its best morceaux played or sung at home, at parties, or at concerts. There can be no necessity for you to go night

after night to the same lyric theatre, and listen to the same opera sung to words in a language you do not understand. That you delight in the expression or delivery, fire or pathos, of such and such a tenor or soprano singer, is a consideration that does not weigh with me. The pleasure you derive from an ut de poitrine, or a coruscation of fioritures, is frivolous, and more than frivolous, sensual. You plead the example of a picture with which you are pleased. You may learn something from a picture. Through the eye the heart may be corrected. You learn from an oratorio. The strains, solemn and sublime, of the Messiah," or St. Paul," elevate, inspire, awe you. One goes home graver, sadder, thinking very deeply on serious things, after such music.



You may learn much from one of the tender, graceful, yet homely English ballads. Did you ever hear Miss Poole sing "Wapping Old Stairs" in that pure mellow voice of hers, and marvellously distinct enunciation, in which every word has its place, and is precious as every gem in a necklace of orient pearls? 'Tis but a humble, pitch-and-tar, waterside song, this "Wapping Old Stairs;" the words merely relating to tobacco boxes, and sailors' trousers, and grog, and Susan from Deptford, and similarly vulgar things; but there is something in both air and words suggestive of love, and fidelity, and resignation, and true womanly trust and pity: an April shower and sunshine of the heart, indeed, that make these old eyes overflow whenever I hear the dear old simple ditty. King William the Fourth was very fond of "Wapping Old Stairs," and so was the good Queen Adelaide, the simple sailor's wife, who gave away three parts of her income in charity, and when she died desired that she might be carried to the grave by sailors.

Be you, therefore, very fond of operas; but rather accept an invitation for the Haymarket or the Olympic than

You will hear but

for the Italian lyric establishments. harmonious tinkle-tinkling there, after all; and besides, I repeat, if you are amourachée of the airs in vogue, you may hear them at home, or at St. James's Hall, or at your friend the Euterpomani's, or even ground on 8 barrel organ outside your window in Pagoda Square. You can't do that with a play-book-with a single exception, the works of Shakspeare. I never could read the dramatic works of Bulwer or Sheridan Knowles. They want acting to be appreciated. In my youth, our French. master used to set us tasks out of the "School for Scandal," to translate into the Gallic tongue, and I thought Sheridan's masterpiece the woefullest, dreariest stuff that a girl of fourteen ever waded through. To read a play without going to see it performed is like reading on an empty stomach the Bill of Fare of the Lord Mayor's dinner. Of what avail are all those tureens of real turtle, when not the tiniest modicum of calipash or calipee falls to your share?

It may be that in my semidiatribe against undue patronage of operas, there may be something of the selfishness of my sofa. I am to see the carissimi luoghi no more. I confess against the grain, but still confess-that I should like to hear the Guiglini whom you call incomparable; his languishing notes, his spasms of tenderness. Was he more pathetic than Nourrit, I wonder? Does Mario surpass Rubini? A Mademoiselle Tietjens also you speak of—is the woman's name Titiens, or Tietjens, or what? She is haughty, commanding, superb. Is she equal to Pasta? Is she equal to Sontag? Who is this Mademoiselle Piccolomini you describe as joyous, vivacious, saucy, fascinating, a captivating actress, but an imperfect singer :-yet one who makes a furore wherever she goes? Since when has the cameriera cantante - the singing chambermaid—become a prima donna? Have you,

« PreviousContinue »