Slike stranica

were very frequent, which, as they occurred, I grew less and less desirous of avoiding. Her strong good sense and unaffected warmth of feeling received additional charms from the perfect artlessness with which she ventured her opinions. The interest with which I regarded her I persuaded myself was that of an older friend, and partook of a paternal character. All the advice my experience could give her in her professional studies she gratefully accepted and skilfully applied, showing an aptness for improvement that increased the partiality she had awakened in me. I could have wished that one so purely minded and so naturally gifted had been placed in some other walk of life; but all that might be in my power for her advancement I resolved to do. On the last night of my engagement at Perth I sent for her into my room, and presenting her with the handsomest shawl I could procure in Perth, I bade her farewell, desiring her, if at any time my influence or aid in any way could serve her, to apply to me without hesitation, and assuring her she might rely on always finding a ready friend in me. As I gazed upon her innocent face beaming with grateful smiles, the wish was in my heart that her public career might expose her to no immodest advances to disturb the serenity or sully the purity of her unspotted mind. My way lay far away from her, but her image accompanied me in my southward journey, and, I may say, indeed never after left me.

At Lancaster I acted two nights, reaching Liverpool in good time for my fortnight's engagement. My early arrival allowed me to be present at a public dinner given in aid of the Liverpool Theatrical Fund, at which the mayor, Sir J. Tobin, presided. To this as to all the other provincial theatrical funds I subscribed my £10; but I should have acted more wisely in keeping my money in my pocket. A very con


siderable sum was accumulated in the course of a few which was, unjustly and dishonestly in my opinion, as a manifest diversion from the purpose of the endowment, divided amongst the few remaining members of the fund. If no legitimate claimants for relief were left, it ought to have been transferred to some other similar charity, or the different contributions returned to their subscribers. The fortnight at Liverpool realized for me a handsome sum, though my plays




were very indifferently mounted. The 'sweet Virginia' is thus depicted in the beautiful lines of Knowles:

[blocks in formation]

Trembling and blushing 'twixt the striving kisses
Of parting Spring and meeting Summer, seems
Her only parallel.”

But she was represented in Liverpool by a lady of considerable
talent in maternal characters, looking quite old enough to have
been the mother of Virginius. These inappropriate assump-
tions call to remembrance the old player who complained of his
manager's "cruelty" in superseding him in the character of the
youthful George Barnwell, after he had successfully acted it for
upwards of fifty years. The part of Lucius, who brings to
Virginius the tidings of the horrible outrage on his child, was
entrusted to a Mr. Cartlitch, whose deeply comical tragedy
convulsed the audience with laughter, and the actors at re-
hearsal were scarcely less amused when Mr. Bass as Icilius
replied to the playful question, of Virginius "Do you wait for
me to lead Virginia in, or will you do it?"
"Whichever you
please, sir." Notwithstanding, the houses were very good, and
I returned to London for my fifth Covent Garden season, set
up in funds and with cheering onward prospects.

My first savings went on a long and not uninteresting venture. One of the brothers of a Birmingham family, with whom in early life we had lived in close intimacy, was making preparations for a voyage to Van Diemen's land. With several children, a second wife, who soon added largely to their number, and what amount of money he could scrape together from the sale of a heavily encumbered estate, he looked the future boldly in the face; but by the outlay he had been obliged to make was straitened for the small sum of £200, which I had the satisfaction of lending him. His career was one of continual crosses, against all of which he most manfully held up. He was cheated by the person entrusted with his funds for the purchase of sheep; was kept out of his grant of land for more than six years, obtaining it at last only by parliamentary influence-engaging the interference of the Colonial Secretary;

his ship, which he fitted out for the South Sea whale fishery, was wrecked; and, finally, he had to witness the total destruction by fire of the wooden warehouse he had built for the stowage of all his goods, furniture, and implements-in fact, his entire stock. Even then his constancy did not desert him; under the pressure of manifold ills his spirit never gave way. On hearing of this last disaster I wrote to him in terms of condolence, and with the acquittal of his debt to me. But resolutely and courageously he continued to bear up, until he paid off, principal and interest, every farthing he owed, and, dying, left an excellent fortune, and a name, George Meredith, that is an honour to his descendants. Such a man's history is worth a record as a great example of industry and endurance.

The beginning of this season gave repetitions of the characters of the last-Virginius, Henri Quatre, Rob Roy, &c. The first new ones ordered by the management were Iachimo in Cymbeline' (October 18th, 1820), and Zanga in Dr. Young's 'Revenge.' Divided between the two I made little impression in either. In Zanga, October 31st, my earnestness kept the audience in interested attention through the first four acts, and in the triumphant exultation over the fallen Alonzo in the fifth the enthusiasm of the house was raised to a very high pitch, from which point I suddenly and most unaccountably sank down into comparative tameness, and the curtain fell to very moderate applause. In discussing the night's event with Talfourd, Wallace, Procter, and some other friends at one of our customary and very agreeable symposia at which pasha-ed lobsters, champagne-punch, and lively talk prolonged the pleasure of the evening's triumph, or cheered the gloom of defeat-it was a subject of general surprise, how I could have suffered a success so near its perfect achievement to slip from my grasp; but of the fact there could be no doubt that the result was a failure. I perceived my error when too late, lamenting the neglected opportunity. To Iachimo I gave no prominence; but in subsequent years I entered with glowing ardour into the wanton mischief of the dissolute, crafty Italian.

The reception of Virginius' had brought on me a great increase of applications from authors to read their MSS., a task which was accepted by me as an appropriate and positive duty pertaining to my position, and which, although engrossing

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

much time and attention, was most conscientiously discharged by me to the very end of my public career. It had its compensations to balance the discontent and hostility which sometimes my adverse judgments unwillingly provoked. One instance was singularly curious. A youth who, as head of the town boys, had finished with credit his term at Westminster School, was desired by his father to apply himself to mathematics. Either from presumed incapacity or aversion to the study he peremptorily refused, and his father as peremptorily refused to make him any allowance to go to the University. In this exigency he set about writing a play and procured an introduction to me from my relative, Captain Birch, with the request that I would read it, as it was his sole dependence. In my judgment it was, with some effective dramatic situations, a very clever schoolboy production, but little more. I pressed on him the necessity of greater care and more force in the language, and suggested alterations which, when made, failing to satisfy me, I endeavoured to dissuade him from reliance on it. But the case was a desperate one, and he was so urgent in requesting the presentation of his MS. to Mr. Harris that I could no longer resist his entreaties, although with no expectation of the play's acceptance. To my great surprise and very great gratification Mr. Harris did accept, and, put at once into rehearsal, it was produced November 14th under its title of ' Wallace,' and went through sixteen representations to wellfilled houses with very considerable applause. It gave Mr. Walker the means of keeping his terms at Oxford, where he took his degree, supporting himself through his college course by his dramatic writings, and indebted to his own industry and perseverance alone for this important step in life. His acknowledgments were made to me in the dedication of his play.

To the interest I took in its production I owed the acquaintance of Major Cartwright, who, as a stickler for Parliamentary Reform, was regarded by his Tory opponents as a monster unfit for human society, and, for mischief and malignity, to be classed with "Scorpion and asp and amphisbæna dire!" The venerable old gentleman was of most polished manners, of almost child-like gentleness, and one of the mildest, most charitable, and philanthropic characters that ever dignified humanity. The Reform Bill of 1832 went very far beyond

his utmost dreams of popular enfranchisement; but democrat, radical, fanatic, Jacobin, were terms too good and an action at law too gentle a correction for the good old man. We have lived in an age of change; but in none of the alterations brought about by the wisdom and eloquence of our leading statesmen has the improvement of our social condition been more distinctly proved than in the tempered tone of political discussion. Opinion is no longer subject to legal persecution. With the disappearance of Sidmouths, Wilson Crokers, &c., the conduct of our institutions has been liberalised. Ex-officio proceedings are become a dead letter. Whilst at issue on the choice of means for effecting a public benefit, party feeling can now admit sincerity of conviction and honesty of purpose in opposite opinions. The law of progress is now universally accepted as God's law, and the question of debate is only, which may be the safer way of carrying it into effect.

The Covent Garden managers neglected no opportunity of enlisting recruits that might be likely to add strength to their corps, and with this view entered into an engagement with Mr. Vandenhoff, who had obtained a considerable provincial reputation. He made his debut in Tate's version of King Lear,' December 9th, and was received with applause he performed afterwards Sir Giles Overreach once, Coriolanus twice, and Rolla once; later in the season he appeared in a melodrama that was acted five nights, after which he retired from the theatre.

The next novelty of the season was Barry Cornwall's ' Mirandola.' Its history was peculiar. He began it by writing the second act, the dramatic power and interest of which made me urgent with him to piece out so excellent a sample into a perfect whole. He then proceeded with the first. The catastrophe, similar to that of Don Carlos,' Parisina,' &c., was already settled; but, on the intervening scenes, occupying the third, fourth, and part of the fifth acts, and forming the intrigue of the story, he could not satisfy himself. In despair he wished me to draw out a plot to fill up this extensive chasm. I made a draft of the scenes, acting over to him in familiar words the passion of each. There were certainly many grounds of objection to be taken to it, but, hemmed in between two points of a story, it was no easy work so to adjust events as

« PrethodnaNastavi »