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the loftiest of human emotions. The Homeric poets, who breathed forth their strains to untutored ears and left no visible traces of their genius, could scarcely anticipate the duration of their works. Shakspear seems to have thought little in his life-time of those honors which through all ages will accumulate on his memory. The best benefactors of their race have left the world nothing but their names, and their remembrances in grateful souls. The true poet, perhaps, feels most holily when he thinks only of sharing in the immortality of nature, and "owes no allegiance but the elements." Some feeling, not unallied to this, may solace the actor for the short-lived remembrance of his exertions. The images which he vivifies are not traced in paper, nor diffused through the press, nor extant in marble; but are engraven on the fleshly tables of the heart, and last till "life's idle business" ceases. To thousands of the young has he given their "first mild touch of sympathy and thought," their first sense of communion with their kind. As time advances, and the ranks of his living admirers grow thin, the old tell of his feats with a tenderer rapture, and give such vivid hints of his excellence as enable their hearers richly to fancy forth some image of grandeur or delight, which, in their minds at least, is like him. The sweet lustre of his memory thus grows more sacred as it approaches its close, and tenderly vanishes. His name lives still—ever pronounced with happiest feelings and in the happiest hours—and excites us to stretch our thoughts backward into the gladnesses of another age. The grave-maker's work, according to the Clown in Hamlet, outlasts all others even " till domesday," and the actor's fades away before most others, because it is the very reverse of his gloomy and durable creations. The theatrical picture does not endure because it is the warmest, the most living of the works of art; it is short as human life, because it is as genial. Those are the intensest enjoyments which soonest wither. The fairest graces of nature—those touches of the etherial scattered over the universe—pass away while they ravish us. Could we succeed in giving permanence to the rainbow, to the delicate shadow, or to the moon-beam on the waters, their light and unearthly charm would be lost for ever. The tender hues of youth would ill exchange their evanescent bloom for an enamel which ages would not destroy. And if "these our actors" must "melt into air, thin air," leaving but soft tracings in the hearts of living admirers—if their images of beauty must fade into the atmosphere of town gaiety, until they only lend some delicate graces to those airy clouds which gleam in its distance, and which are not recognized as theirs, they can scarcely complain of a transitoriness which is necessarily connected with the living grace which belongs to no other order of artists.
The work before us, however, may afford better consolation than we can render to actors; for it redeems not the names, but the vivid images of some of the greatest artists of a century ago, from oblivion. Here they are not embalmed, but kept alive— and breathe, in all the glory of their meridian powers, before us. Here Betterton's tones seem yet to melt on the entranced hearer— Nokes yet convulses the full house with laughter on his first appearance—and Mrs. Monfort sinks with her dainty, diving body to the ground, beneath the conscious load of her own attractions. The theatrical portraits in this work are drawn with the highest gusto, and set forth with the richest coloring. The author has not sought, like some admirable critics of this age of criticism, to say as many witty or eloquent things on each artist as possible, but simply to form the most exact likeness, and to give to the drapery the most vivid and appropriate hues. We seem to listen to the prompter's bell—to see the curtain rise—and behold on the scene the goodly shapes of the actors and actresses of another age, in their antique costume, and with all the stately airs and high graces which the town knows no longer.
Betterton is the chief object of our author's admiration; but the account of his various excellencies is too long to extract entire, and perhaps, on account of the spirit of boundless eulogy in which it is written, has less of that nicety of touch, which gives so complete an individuality to his pictures of other performers.
The following are perhaps the most interesting parts of the description:
"You have seen a Hamlet perhaps, who, on the first appearance of his father's spirit, has thrown himself into all the straining vociferation requisite to express rage and fury, and the house has thunder'd with applause; tho' the mis-guided actor was all the while (as Shakespear terms it) tearing a passion into rags.—I am the more bold to offer you this particular instance, because the late Mr. Addison, while I sate by him, to see this scene acted, made the same observation, asking me with some surprize, if I thought Hamlet should be in so violent a passion with the Ghost, which tho' it might have astonish'd, it had not provok'd him? for you may observe that in this beautiful speech, the passion never rises beyond an almost breathless astonishment, or an impatience, limited by filial reverence, to enquire into the suspected wrongs that may have rais'd him from his peaceful tomb! and a desire to know what a spirit so seemingly distrest, might wish or enjoin a sorrowful son to execute towards his future quiet in the grave? This was the light into which Betterton threw this scene; which he open'd with a pause of mute amazement! then rising slowly, to solemn, trembling voice, he made the Ghost equally terrible to the spectator, as to himself! and in the descriptive part of the natural emotions which the ghastly vision gave him, the boldness of his expostulation was still govern'd by decency, manly, but not braving; his voice never rising into that seeming outrage, or wild defiance of what he naturally rever'd. But alas! to preserve this medium, between mouthing, and meaning too little, to keep the attention more pleasingly awake, by a temper'd spirit, than by meer vehemence of voice, is of all the master-strokes of an actor the most difficult to reach. In this aone yet have equall'd Betterton."
"A farther excellence in Betterton, was, that he could vary his spirit to the different characters he acted. Those wild impatient starts, that fierce and flashing fire, which he threw into Hotspur, never came from the unruffled temper of his Brutus; (for I have, more than once, seen a Brutus as warm as Hotspur) when the Betterton Brutus was provok'd, in his dispute with Cassius, his spirit flew only to his eye; his steady look alone supply'd that terror, which he disdain'd an intemperance in his voice should rise to. Thus, with a settled dignity of contempt, like an unheeding rock, he repelled upon himself the foam of Cassius. Perhaps the very words of Shakespear will better let you into my meaning:
Must I give way, and room, to your rash choler?
And a little after;
There is no terror, Cassius, in your looks! &c.
Not but in some part of this scene, where he reproaches Cassius, his temper is not under this suppression, but opens into that warmth which becomes a man of virtue; yet this is that hasty spark of anger, which Brutus himself endeavours to excuse."
The account of Kynaston, who, in his youth, before the performance of women on the stage, used to appear in female characters, is very amusing. He was particularly successful in Evadne, in The Maid's Tragedy, and always retained "something of a formal gravity in his mien, which was attributed to the stately step he had been so early confined to" in his female attire: the ladies of quality, we are told, used to pride themselves in taking him with them in their coaches to Hyde Park, in his theatrical habit, after the play, which then used to begin at the early hour of four. There was nothing, however, effeminate in his usual style of acting. We are told, that
"He had a piercing eye, and in characters of heroick life, a quick imperious vivacity in his tone of voice, that painted the tyrant truly terrible. There were two plays of Dryden in which he shone, with uncommon lustre; in Aurenge-Zebe he play'd Morat, and in Don Sebastian, Muley Moloch; in both these parts, he had a fierce lion-like majesty in his port and utterance, that gave the spectator a kind oFtrembling admiration."
The following account of this actor's performance in the now neglected character of Henry the Fourth, gives us the most vivid idea of the grave yet gentle majesty and kingly pathos, which the part requires:
"But above this tyrannical, tumid superiority of character, there is a grave and rational majesty in Shakespear's Harry the Fourth, which tho' not so glaring to the vulgar eye, requires thrice the skill and grace to become and support. Of this real majesty, Kynaston was entirely master; here every sentiment came from him, as if it had been his own, as if he had himself, that instant, conceiv'd it, as if he had lost the player, and were the real king he personated! a perfection so rarely found, that very often, in actors of good repute, a certain vacancy of look, inanity of voice, or superfluous gesture, shall unmask the man to the judicious spectator; who from the least of those errors plainly sees the whole but a lesson given him, to be got by heart, from some great author, whose sense is deeper than the repeater's understanding. This true majesty Kynaston had so entire a command of, that when he whisper'd the following plain line to Hotspur,
Send us your prisoners, or you'll hear of it!
he convey'd a more terrible menace in it, than the loudest intemperance of voice could swell to. But let the bold imitator beware, for without the look, and just elocution that waited on it, an attempt of the same nature may fall to nothing.
But the dignity of this character appear'd in Kynaston still more shining, in the private scene between the King, and Prince his son: there you saw majesty, in that sort of grief, which only majesty could feel! there the paternal concern, for the errors of the son, made the monarch more rever'd and dreaded: his reproaches so just, yet so unmix'd with anger (and therefore the more piercing) opening as it were the arms of nature, with a secret wish, that filial duty, and penitence awak'd, might fall into them with grace and honour. In this affecting scene, I thought Kynaston shew'd his most masterly strokes of nature; expressing all the various motions of the heart, with the same force, dignity, and feeling, they are written; adding to the whole, that peculiar and becoming grace, which the best writer cannot inspire into any actor, that is not born with it."
How inimitably is the varied excellence of Monfort depicted in the following speaking picture:
"Monfort, a younger man by twenty years, and at this time in his highest reputation, was an actor of a very different style: of person he was tall, well made, fair, and of an agreeable aspect: his voice clear, full, and melodious: in tragedy he was the most affecting lover within my memory. His addresses had a resistless recommeridation from the very tone of his voice, which gave his words such a softness, that, as Dryden says,
Like flakes of feather'd snow,
They melted as they fell!
All this he particularly verify'd in that scene of Alexander, where the heroe throws himself at the feet of Statira for pardon of his past infidelities. There we saw the great, the tender, the penitent, the despairing-, the transported, and the amiable, in the highest perfection. In comedy, he gave the truest life to what we call the Fine Gentleman; his spirit shone the brighter for being polish'd with decency: in scenes of gaiety, he never broke into the regard, that was due to the presence of equal or superior characters, tho* inferior actors play'd them; he fill'd the stage, not by elbowing, and crossing it before others, or disconcerting their action, but by surpassing them, in true and masterly touches of nature. He never laugh'd at his own jest, unless the point of his raillery upon another requir'd it.—He had a particular talent, in giving life to bons mots and repartees: the wit of the poet seem'd always to come from him extempore, and sharpen'd into more wit, from his brilliant manner of delivering it; he had himself a good share of it, or what is equal to it, so lively a pleasantness of humour, that when either of these fell into his hands upon the stage, he wantoned with them, to the highest delight of his auditors. The agreeable was so natural to him, that even in that dissolute character of the Rover he seem'd to wash off the guilt from vice, and gave it charms and merit. For tho' it may be a reproach to the poet, to draw such characters, not only unpunish'd, but rewarded, the actor may still be allow'd his due praise in his excellent performance. And this is a distinction which, when this comedy was acted at Whitehall, King William's Queen Mary was pleas'd to make in favour of Monfort, notwithstanding her disapprobation of the play.
He had besides all this, a variety in his genius, which few capital actors have shewn, or perhaps have thought it any addition to their merit to arrive at; he could entirely change himself; could at once throw off the man of sense, for the brisk, vain, rude, and lively coxcomb, the false, flashy pretender to wit, and the dupe of his own sufficiency: of this he gave a delightful instance in the character of Sparkish in Wycherly's Country Wife. In that of Sir Courtly Nice his excellence was still greater: there his whole man, voice, mien, and gesture, was no longer Monfort, but another person. There, the insipid, soft civility, the elegant and formal mien, the drawling delicacy of voice, the stately flatness of his address, and the empty eminence of his attitudes, were so nicely observ'd and guarded by him, that had he not been an entire master of nature, had he not kept his judgment, as it were, a centinel upon himself, not to admit the least likeness of what he us'd to be, to enter into any part of his performance, he could not possibly have so completely finish'd it."
Our author is even more felicitous in his description of the performers in low comedy and high farce. The following critique brings Nokes—the Liston of his age—so vividly before us, that we seem almost as well acquainted with him, as with his delicious successor.
"Nokes was an actor of a quite different genius from any I have ever read, heard of, or seen, since or before his time; and yet his general excellence may be comprehended in one article, viz. a plain and