Slike stranica




one of the clearest. It was therefore in rather a listless and indifferent mood I watched its progress, dividing my attention between the actors and the audience, when, to my surprise and great delight, three or four boxes off I saw my brother. I did not wait for the box-keeper's key, but, somewhat indecorously I must confess, clambered over the intervening partitions to shake hands with him, which I did in a tumult of joy that attracted more observation than I desired. We sat out the piece together, to which however the mutual information we had to give allowed us to pay little attention. He spent a couple of days with me at the hotel, long after remembered as very pleasant ones, in the enjoyment of which the uneasy thoughts that had of late beset me on the uncertainty of the fate in store for me had been shut out from my mind; but on parting with him I relapsed into my doubtful musings. He sailed in the evening packet for Dublin, and the next morning I took the coach for London.


1816.-Risks and advantages of a London engagement-First appearance at Covent Garden as Orestes, 16th September, 1816-Contemporary criticism -Times-Globe-Hazlitt-Remarks on personal appearance-MentevoleOthello-Iago-Position and prospect on the London stage.

It would be supposed that to a provincial player the prospect of a metropolitan engagement should be rather a cause of exultation than depression; and with most no doubt it would. To the generality, with little or nothing to lose even in failure, success would bring, in respect to salary and social position, desirable and important changes. In such a hazard there is no drawback nothing to disturb or chill the hopeful spirit that impels the young enthusiast. All is on the side of daring. To him the enterprise presents but two points, as in "the adventure of the diver: one when, a beggar, he prepares to plunge; one when, a prince, he rises with his pearl!" But to me the country thetares had already yielded an income exceeding that on which I was to tempt my fortune in London, with professional reputation pretty widely extended. In aiming therefore at a doubtful triumph I seemed to jeopard advantages already secured-preparing for the eventful struggle in a field where all the vantage-ground was already and strongly occupied. Still the decision was not rashly made, nor without balancing the reasons on either side. Most of the respectable country managers would recognise as "auxiliaries" or "stars" (the green-room title given to occasional professional visitors like myself) those actors only who had the London stamp; and this exclusive rule so limited my sphere of action that, both in respect to income and practice, I must by remaining in the country have sunk considerably below my previous average.




The plunge must therefore be taken, and under that necessity my mind was made up, whatever might befal, to do my very best, though unable to overcome my diffidence of the result as I reviewed the difficulties of my position.

Arrived in London, and temporarily quartered at my former hotel, the old Slaughter Coffee House, I lost no time in presenting myself to the Covent Garden managers. Mr. Henry Harris, Reynolds, the dramatic author, reader, and adviser, and Fawcett formed "the cabinet" of the theatre, and I was made a party to their consultations on the still perplexing subject of my opening play. They had a heavy stake in their venture with me, and were in a proportionate degree cautious of risking comparisons that might prove detrimental to it. A club much talked of at the time, that bore the name of "The Wolves," was said to be banded together to put down anyone appearing in Kean's characters. I believed the report not to have been founded in strict fact; but it was currently received, and had its influence on the Covent Garden deliberations. Orestes was the part finally resolved on, as least likely to provoke party criticism; Charles Kemble would be all that could be desired in the dignified declamation of Pyrrhus, but for Hermione and Andromache, two first-rate tragic characters-where was the passion and pathos to give effect to them, and how to fill them? The plea of necessity at length bore down all previous objections, and the part of Hermione was cast to Mrs. Egerton, whose merits were confined to melodrama, whilst a special engagement was made with Mrs. Glover, the best comic actress then upon the stage, to appear as the weeping, widowed Andromache. A play so mounted-to borrow the French expression was not very encouraging in the prospect of its attracting; but I had only to hold steadily to my purpose, and "do my best." Monday, September 16th, was fixed for my appearance. The interim was employed in settling myself in lodgings at 64 Frith Street, Soho, attending rehearsals, giving directions in the wardrobe for my dress, and thinking night and day upon the trial that was before me.

With most of us the course of life is uneven, and there are doubtless few who cannot recall periods of difficulty, of hazard and danger, where it was needful to string up every nerve to its utmost degree of tension in striving against the enfeebling

discouragement of doubt. Several times in my life it has fallen to my lot to encounter a crisis of this sort, where all seemed at stake, and of them all this was one of the most formidable; but the day arrived, and the venture must be made. Unaccustomed to the vast size of these large theatres, it was with a feeling like dismay that I entered on the stage; but to all appearance I managed to keep under control the flutter of my spirits, went through my rehearsal, inspected my room, and gave all directions necessary. Every courtesy was shown to me, and, as an ordinary civility to a debutant, whatever orders or free admissions I might wish for my friends were liberally set at my disposal by the managers; but I had then no friends, not even an acquaintance, that I could call upon. After my early dinner I lay down, endeavouring to compose myself, till the hour appointed for my setting out to the theatre. The hackney-coach—a conveyance happily, in the advance of civilisation, "mingled with the things o'erpast"-was called, and I can almost fancy in recollecting it that I feel every disquieting jolt of the rumbling vehicle as it slowly performed the office of a hurdle in conveying me to the place of execution. The silent process of dressing was only interrupted by the callboy Parsloe's voice, "Overture on, sir!" which sent a chill to my heart. The official rap at the door soon followed, and the summons, "Mr. Macready," made me instantly rally all my energies, and with a firm step I went forward to my trial. But the appearance of resolute composure assumed by the player at this turning-point of his life belies the internal struggles he endures. These eventful trials, in respect to the state of mind and body in which they are encountered, so resemble each other that one described describes all. The same agitation, and effort to master it, the dazzled vision, the short quick breath, the dry palate, the throbbing of the heart-all, however painfully felt, must be effectually disguised in the character the actor strives to place before his audience.

Abbott, as Pylades, was waiting for me at the side-scene, and when the curtain had risen, grasping his hand almost convulsively, I dashed upon the stage, exclaiming, as in a transport of the highest joy, "Oh, Pylades! what's life without a friend!" The welcome of applause that greeted my entrance (always so liberally bestowed by a London public


on every new performer) was all I could have desired; but it was not until the loud and long plaudits following the vehement burst of passion in the line, "Oh, ye Gods! give me Hermione or let me die!" that I gained any degree of selfpossession. As the play proceeded I became more and more animated under the conflicting emotions of the distracted lover, and at the close, as I sank, "furiis agitatus Orestes," into the arms of Pylades, the prolonged cheers of my auditors satisfied me of my success. The custom of "calling for " the player had not then been introduced into our English theatres; but it was considered a sufficient testimony of a triumphant issue to give out the play for repetition on the Friday and Monday following. Congratulations were profusely tendered me by the various members of the Covent Garden company, who stopped me in passing from the stage to my dressing-room; and when summoned to the manager's room, Mr. Harris, in his peculiar way, observed, "Well, my boy, you have done capitally; and if you could carry a play along with such a cast, I don't know what you cannot do!" I was to dine with him the next day to settle further proceedings, and I returned to my lodgings in a state of mind like one not fully awake from a disturbing dream, grateful for my escape, yet almost questioning the reality of what had passed.

In the attendance of that evening it was observed that the members of the corps dramatique mustered in unusual force, among whom Kean, conspicuous in a private box, was very liberal of his applause. Would not the sleep be sweet and sound after such a termination to such a period of excitement and solicitude? It would seem so: but the mind is not yet at ease: the fate of the adventure is not yet decided; there is yet wanting the confirmation of public approval, and many an hour of a wakeful night is spent in painful uncertainty of what may be the tone of the morning press in its report of the evening's performance. feverish impatience I awaited the arrival of the morning paper. However persons in public life may profess indifference to the manner in which their merits may be canvassed and registered in the public journals, I am a sceptic to the affectation of such insensibility. We cannot "read our history in a nation's eyes," but we may in the daily papers. Instances


« PrethodnaNastavi »