Slike stranica




with the manager seemed to me necessary to perfect the understanding between us, and accordingly I hurried up to London and met him with Mr. Reynolds. He was frank and friendly, and very few words were needed to make our compact mutually satisfactory. I required the highest salary given in the theatre, to which he admitted I was entitled, and "should have it." In a brief conversation he explained to me the cause of the maximum salary being reduced from £25 per week to £20, "at which both Young and Miss Stephens were then engaged;" and in signing my agreement at £20 per week for five years, he pledged his word under witness of Mr. Reynolds, that "if any regular performer in the theatre should receive more than that sum, my payment should be immediately raised to the same amount." This ill-advised measure of linking together a written and a verbal contract was in the issue fraught with consequences of a very distressing nature: but the signatures were affixed, and being under an engagement to act six nights with my friend Mr. Mansel at Hull, it was arranged that I should appear at Covent Garden in 'Virginius' on Monday, November 26th, 1821.

I now took the upper part of a house in Berners Street, No. 67, and entered on my second Covent Garden engagement. Great was the difference in my circumstances and position from my entrance on the first. I had now invested some little sums, and could count many and ardent friends where then I had scarcely an acquaintance. The doubt and apprehension under which I ventured on each primary essay were now succeeded by confidence in the just or indulgent appreciation of my audience, whenever by diligence and resolute endeavour I might make myself master of the subjects of my study; I shared with Young the station of leading tragedian, and in all respects we stood on a perfect equality. But it was so much the more imperatively necessary that no effort towards continued improvement should be relaxed, and with this renewed determination I awaited the events of time. There was little of theatrical interest in the early part of the season at either theatre. Kean at Drury Lane made trial of several characters: one in a new tragedy called 'Owen, Prince of Powys,' written, I believe, by Miss Jane Porter-a sad failure; others in old stock plays, productive of little effect; but in the

revival of Joanna Baillie's 'De Montfort,' with alterations by the authoress, he shone out in the full splendour of his genius. The play was, however, with all its great merit, too heavy and gloomy to be attractive, and its early withdrawal deprived me of the satisfaction of witnessing a performance which was spoken of as singularly triumphant. At Covent Garden the dramatic romance of the Exile,' in which Young gave unusual prominence to the part of Daran, was brought out with the pageant of a coronation, and had a very long run. My appearances were in consequence infrequent, and limited to characters with which the town was familiar.

In the course of the two past seasons I had made several excursions to my father's theatre at Bristol, where crowded houses almost invariably welcomed me. These visits brought more particularly under my notice the young actress, Miss Atkins, who had so won upon my interest. In her unaffected pathos and sprightliness I had seen the germ of very rare talent, and was anxious its development should not be marred by any premature attempt. The counsel which, in consequence, I sought to impress on her led to frequent conversations and eventually to correspondence, which I tried to make instrumental to the advancement of her education, and then it was, in my own case as no doubt in hers, that "love approached me under friendship's name," although unsuspected and unconfessed in either of us.

It was in this season that, at Charles Kemble's instigation, exceptions to the management of Mr. Harris were taken by the other proprietors, and hostilities aroused that led in the sequel to the ruin of the property. The grave has closed over all the parties at issue in the conflict, and I have no wish to touch on any of the accusations retorted between them beyond what may be necessary to explain the embarrassing position in which their dispute placed me. The main facts are these:--Charles. Kemble, now a co-proprietor, was desirous of obtaining sway in the management, to which Mr. Harris, the owner of one-half and a fraction of the concern, refused to assent. The threat of a suit in Chancery was so far effectual in bringing the parties to terms of settlement that a lease between them was decided on. The malcontents-Charles Kemble, Willet, Captain Forbes, R.N., and the representatives of Mrs. Martindale-proposed to




take it. Mr. Harris demanded a rent of £12,500 per annum for seven years. Upon the rejection of these terms, Mr. Harris offered to take the theatre upon the same terms. This was not the object of the dissenting party, the management of the establishment was what they aimed at; and, accordingly declining the tender of Mr. Harris, they consented to become the lessees of Covent Garden Theatre at the annual rent of £12,500 for a term of seven years. Unluckily for Mr. Harris, upon their signatures to an agreement to sign the same lease, he gave them possession, instead of waiting for the complete execution of the legal document. The transfer was so far effected that the committee, as these lessees were now styled, entered officially on the new premises and on their new office utterly and, unhappily, ignorant of the business they had taken in hand. One of the first duties incumbent on them in taking office was to acknowledge and guarantee the performers' engagements. As a stipulation, verbally given, made an important part of mine, Charles Kemble wished to have from Mr. Harris his confirmation of my statement, and with my ready consent the point was to remain in abeyance until it could be submitted to and acknowledged by him. The committee was not ostensibly "the management:" Charles Kemble as "acting manager being "viceroy over them," and Fawcett, whose alleged incompetency had been one of their main grounds of complaint, was retained in his office of "stage manager" and invested with more power than before. The appearance of Charles Kemble in the School for Scandal' late in March was the only notification of any change having taken place.

The season dragged its slow length along, but received an impetus from the performance of 'Julius Cæsar,' Young acting Brutus; myself, Cassius; Charles Kemble, Mark Antony; and Fawcett, Casca. The receipt of the first night exceeded, it was said, £600, and the house was crowded to its several repetitions. On this occasion I entered con amore into the study of the character of Cassius, identifying myself with the eager ambition, the keen penetration, and the restless envy of the determined conspirator, which, from that time, I made one of my most real personations.

A very bad play by George Colman, called 'The Law of Java,' in which Young, Liston, Fawcett, Jones, Miss M. Tree,

and Miss Stephens had parts, was not calculated to raise the spirits of the lessees. It was a complete failure, and determined them on closing the theatre a fortnight earlier than usual: the benefits were accordingly brought on without delay. Young took King John, in which I acted Hubert for him. He was most earnest in his acknowledgments to me, not only for acting the part, but for the manner in which, in his great scene, I placed myself upon the stage to give prominence to his effects. Othello' I chose for my benefit, Young volunteering himself for Iago, or anything else; as he said, "Whatever I might wish him to do I had but to name it." Our rivalry was always maintained on the most gentlemanly footing. My house was great, and my improved representation of the Moor strengthened my hold on public opinion.

[ocr errors]

My summer vacation I desired to spend in a tour through Italy, hoping to find suggestions in my own art from the contemplation of the great works of sculpture and painting which I could only see there. I set to work intently on the language, which I did not consider difficult. My friend Fawcett went with me to Ransom's Bank, where I procured my letters of credit, and where I was introduced to Douglas Kinnaird, who in the kindest manner gave me letters to his brother Lord Kinnaird at Naples, and to Lord Byron, then at Pisa.

*From the Times, May 29th, 1822.-"Mr. Macready last night performed Othello for his benefit, an undertaking of no small peril, while the excellence of Mr. Kean in the character is fresh in the public mind. Mr. Macready, however, without any imitation of Mr. Kean, and without disturbing the noble impressions which he has left on our memory, succeeded in giving a representation of the part, abounding with individual traits of grandeur and of beauty, and forming altogether a consistent and harmonious whole."

From the Morning Herald, May 29th, 1822.-" Covent Garden Theatre.— 'Othello was performed at this theatre last night, for the benefit of Mr. Macready. If it were possible that Mr. Macready could add any new claim to public favour, it certainly would be his performance of Othello last night. He called forth all his powers, and most successfully, to personate the unhappy husband, suspecting but yet 'strongly loving.' It would be difficult to select any part of the performance in which Mr. Macready excelled, with such ability and such a just conception did he sustain the whole, which frequently called forth the loudest applause from the audience."





1822.-Continental tour-Paris-Mars, Potier, Duchesnois, Talma, Lafond, at the Théâtre Français-Dijon-Geneva-Lausanne-Villeneuve-St. Maurice -The Simplon-Lago Maggiore-Milan-Iron Crown at Monza-VeronaTomb of Juliet-Vicenza-Padua—Arquà—Painful pilgrimage to the shrine of Petrarch-Venice-An Italian actor-Bologna.

WITH the best travelling companions, youth and good spirits, and the enlivening anticipations of a world of beauty before me, I set out on my journey. At Paris I quartered at the Hôtel du Prince Regent, Rue Ste. Hyacinthe, a small street off the Rue St. Honoré, where I found a quiet and moderate table d'hôte, and all necessary aids towards acquainting myself with the lions of the French capital, of which the Louvre was my principal attraction, part of almost every morning being spent in the study of its splendid galleries. Talma was ill, and expressed his regret at being prevented from seeing me. I visited of course the theatres, and at the Français witnessed with delight the performances of the charming Mdlle. Mars. Her voice was music, and the words issuing from her lips suggested to the listener the clear distinctness of a beautiful type upon a rich vellum page. It was a luxury to the ear to drink in the "dulcet and harmonious breath" that her utterance of the poet gave forth. Nor was her voice her only charm: in person she was most lovely, and in grace and elegance of deportment and action unapproached by any of her contemporaries. Potier was the favourite comedian of the day, and in genuine humour was unrivalled either on the French or English stage. Mdlle. Duchesnois and Lafond, in Voltaire's tragedy of Alzine,' furnished the best examples of the declamatory style of the French school of acting; but the genius of Talma (whom I saw at a

« PrethodnaNastavi »